Along with communication, delegation is arguably the most important aspect of effective leadership. Yet as crucial, necessary and productive as delegation can be, it is still quite often underused, underappreciated and underrated.
The more effective and successful a leader is, the more crucial his or her ability to delegate becomes. Why? Because no one can be everywhere and do everything all the time — at least until cloning becomes 100 percent effective and foolproof. That makes the ability to effectively delegate responsibility and tasks to qualified peers, co-workers and subordinates extremely important, not to mention valuable.
So how do you go about implementing delegation? What is the best way to utilize it and how do you avoid going to extremes by either under- or overusing it?
There are five basic levels of delegation, but there are many ways to use it. There are also a lot of ways to introduce and implement it.
Levels of Delegation, Take Five
Everyone is different, and that is why there are different levels of delegation. Not everyone can handle, or responds well to certain styles. A good and prescient boss knows which level to use with which subordinate when assigning a task. Although some may disagree that there could be many more, there are at least these five basic levels of delegation:
LEVEL 1: Follows right to the letter. The first, and most obvious, is the “This is your task. Do it exactly as these instructions say and no other way – No exceptions” level. This leaves no wiggle room or margin for deviation. The person assigned the task is to complete it EXACTLY as instructed with no changes, slight or significant. This type of delegation is often used for new employees who are embarking upon an entirely new profession for which they have absolutely no experience.
LEVEL 2: Assign, evaluate, and/or consult before approval. This offers wiggle room, as the desired task is first assigned, then the employee either consults with the manager to come up with a jointly-agreed-upon course of action, or the assigner then delegates which course to take after consultation. After the consultation, the boss or manager may also give instructions or a checklist of needs, such things to assess, tackle and complete the task satisfactorily. This level offers opportunities for more instruction, coaching, and development of the employees. It is often used for employees who may be changing companies but staying in the same career, so they are familiar with the task but not with the new employer’s working style and requirements.
LEVEL 3: Assign, evaluate, decide and wait for approval. The third method is a derivative of Level 2, with the added step of offering more input and creative involvement by the person or persons assigned the task. Not only does this convey more trust and faith in the chosen employee, it also facilitates training, improves the overall experience and increases educational opportunities for the assignees. This is a good happy medium for both new and veteran employees and works well in large workplaces where the tasks must be managed properly for structural purposes.
LEVEL 4: Assign, evaluate, decide and do it… unless. At this level, the employee is almost entirely held accountable for the task with very little instruction. However, the ultimate decision making is still made by the manager. This method shows a lot of faith and pays a compliment to the assignee as to their manager’s level of confidence in their ability to complete the task successfully. It is often left for seasoned employees, particularly those who have performed the repeated or said task successfully in circumstances prior. One drawback to this approach is it can also be a source of frustration for an employee who is told they have the expertise and capability to do what is requested the way their boss wants it done, but then if they lack the confidence in their boss to follow through or if something goes awry, then it makes this person almost entirely accountable. This Level requires trust, rapport, confidence and understanding.
LEVEL 5: Assign, evaluate, decide and run with it. This level conveys the highest confidence in the employee’s abilities, as well as the idea that he or she is well on their way to promotion and advancement. Level 5 is the ultimate in autonomy and confidence shown in the person or persons chosen to complete a task assigned by a superior. The boss doesn’t even require a heads-up or check-back before the assignee starts work on the task. This is not only complete freedom, but also the ultimate compliment in terms of a superior’s confidence in the assignee’s ability to complete a task to the assigner’s complete satisfaction. Many companies who have seasoned staff members use this type of delegation to accomplish more. It can also be beneficial for smaller companies who trust in their employees to help them perform at maximum potential.
The Art and Implementation of Delegating
When it comes to effective delegation, you can’t just simply order people around. Just as every worker — and person — is different, and therefore responds best to different stimuli or styles of delegation and criticism or praise, so too are there varying degrees of even those five basic levels of delegation.
This means in order to be most effective, and get the best results from people chosen to have tasks and projects delegated to them, bosses must be both creative and knowledgeable when it comes to picking the right person for the right kind of delegated assignment.
Don’t be afraid to seek input from the person you’re considering for a certain project. While people generally are capable of more than their higher-ups may think, there is also a lot of truth in a memorable line uttered by one of Clint Eastwood’s characters when he said “A man’s got to know his limitations.”
When it comes to effective delegation, there are many ways and styles to do it, but it’s always a good idea to practice clear and detailed communication. That includes spelling out exactly what the task is and what’s expected of the person tackling it. Other key factors in effective delegation include:
Emphasizing your teaching skills and making yourself available to help whenever questions or problems crop up.
Using standards that are consistent, so subordinates have a clear idea of what is expected and to what degree those results and outcomes are expected.
Be sure to extend assignees plenty of freedom, but also conduct regular progress checks so any possible snags don’t turn into major roadblocks or delays.
Share the wealth. When a subordinate worker completes the delegated task successfully, or to an even higher degree than expected, be sure to share the credit and single that person out for accolades and praise. The worst thing to do it to take sole credit for the delegated project’s success. Not only does this make workers distrustful and resentful toward their bosses, it also provides disincentive for future tasks to be performed to the best of an assignee’s ability when he or she knows they won’t share in any of the credit or reap any rewards for their hard work.
“The growth and improvement — and thereby success and profitability — of your business is directly linked to the growth and improvement of its employees.”
Another benefit of delegation is that it is a proven way to develop and determine the best candidates to succeed their bosses and administrators. Failure to develop successors through delegation means a lack of qualified candidates to fill higher-up positions of leadership and skill when leaders and skilled workers retire or move on. That creates a vacuum of leadership, skill and productivity. It could turn into a disaster if not done properly, but if done right, delegation will streamline the business and put you in a valuable position amongst your industry.
One of the best ways to spur business growth is also by delegation, because successfully implemented delegation leads directly to increased confidence, experience, and capability; and thereby a more capable workforce overall. While delegation doesn’t always lead to promotion, improved productivity and experience, failure to use delegation almost certainly guarantees a total lack of those factors and an overall stagnation and malaise among your subordinate workforce. At best, it means the business is increasingly more reliant on the small minority of workers who can perform higher-end projects, and at worst it means certain projects and tasks may not even be tried or started unless the boss or a small circle of proven workers are available to do it.