This introduces a suite of five articles digging into the art of delegating – a core leadership practice. Leadership is about inspiring, enabling and empowering others to do their absolute best together to realize a meaningful and rewarding shared purpose. In line with that, the art of delegating has four components: direction, resources, bounded authority and accountability. Clear direction is essential to inspiring. Resources are critical to enabling. Bounded authority is really just another definition of empowerment. They all come together in two-way accountability – bestowed and accepted.
Recall the six levels of delegation from my article, Work Less, Create More Value:
- Do well yourself – Individual contributors’ main area of focus
- Do yourself, but just well enough – Individual contributors
- Delegate and supervise – The realm of managers
- Delegate and trust – Senior leaders inspiring, enabling and empowering managers
- Do later – Senior leaders’ prioritization/deprioritization saving others time now
- Do never – Senior leaders’ ultimate deprioritization, saving others time and attention
Within that, level four, “delegate and trust,” requires the direction, resources, authority and accountability referenced above:
- DIRECTION/intent – what, why and interdependencies
- RESOURCES (financial, information, operations/technical, people, time) – specific
- AUTHORITY to make tactical decisions within strategic boundaries/guidelines – balanced
- ACCOUNTABILITY and consequences of success and failure – owned
Effective delegation starts with making sure others understand what needs to happen, why it’s important on its own, and how it fits with what others are doing. If you’re delegating and supervising, this is all about clarity to make it as easy as possible for others to follow your direction. If you’re delegating and trusting, this is all about inspiring, motivating others to do their absolute best together.
We’ll dig into this in the next article in this suite. But, in either case, direction/intent is the first step in the art of delegation. Everything else reinforces or flows from this.
Delegation is a theoretical concept without any utility until people are empowered with the specific resources required to deliver on expectations. Those resources are likely financial, information, operational/technical, people and time.
- Financial: balance sheet, operating cash to pay to outsource things not available internally
- Information: data, systems, support
- Operations/technical: material, equipment/tools/machines, infrastructure, space, utilities
- People: to help obtain input, to support and help think, to help implement
- Time: deferral or elimination of other responsibilities
Of these, the financial and time are arguably the most important. With enough financial resources, someone can obtain the information, operational/technical help and people they need if they are not available internally. Freeing up people’s time from other priorities to focus on what you’re delegating is critical. No one can manufacture time.
In many ways, “Bounded authority” is another term for “empowerment.” The core premise is that the right level of boundaries and guidelines empowers those to whom you’ve delegated authority to make different choices than you would have made with you being confident that their choices will help achieve your shared objectives in a different way than you had imagined.
Re-read that last sentence. If all you want is people to make the same choices you would have made, stop pretending to delegate and tell them what to do. It will be easier for all. And if you don’t have enough confidence in your leaders to really delegate to them, get other leaders. But, if you do have confidence in them and appreciate their different perspectives, you have to be ready, willing and able for them to make different choices than the ones you would make.
Accountability has to be a two-way street. The person delegating authority has to be clear on the positive and negative consequences of success or failure. And the people seeking and accepting authority have to accept those consequences. Beware of people that want authority without accountability. They’re not really committed.
Why dig into this
If you buy the definition of leadership as inspiring, enabling and empowering, you almost have to see the value of effective delegation.
- Of course, you have to have some fundamental innate talent in this area.
- Reading these articles will help build your knowledge.
- That won’t be enough. Practice these ideas to build skills.
- Intentionally gain experience delegating, learning from when it works well and does not.
- If you want to take the art of delegating to its highest level, apprentice yourself to a master delegator to develop craft-level caring and sensibilities.
Click here for a categorized list of my Forbes articles (of which this is #846)