My last article in the Leader/Manager/leader Essential Skills series identified delegation as a foundational management and leadership skill. In organizational terms it is the transfer of authority and responsibility to another. In its truest form it isn’t about empowering others. It is simply passing on tasks for others to do. I pointed out that delegation is about teamwork and conscientious intent and not off-loading tasks willynilly. This article will explore the thorny question about how much authority does the manager/leader delegate and who is ultimately held accountable.
How much authority is necessary?
How much authority do you transfer to others during the delegation process? The short answer: it depends on the capabilities of the delegatee. The more capable the delegatee, the more authority one delegates; and conversely the less capable, the less authority one delegates. To help sort this out let’s consider four levels of delegated authority with the first being the highest.
Level 1: Do it.
The “Do It” level assumes the individual has the skills and capabilities of carrying out the delegated task. Here the manager/leader genuinely passes on his authority to the individual. The manager/leader trusts the individual and is confident that she can and will carry out the assigned task. This first level is usually attributed to those who are well experienced, professional in their approach, and have consistently performed well.
Level 2: Do it and tell me later.
There is a bit of testing going at this level. The manager/leader allows the individual to complete the task but wants to know what was done and how it was done to ensure that the task was done right and that the individual gets the right result. The manager/leader is not sure the individual is fully capable of doing the job but is willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.
Another process is also at work here, that of experimentation and learning.
In the case of experimentation, the delegatee may complete the task and achieve the right result. However, she may not have done it in the same way that the manager/leader would have done it. “How” the person did it was different than “how” the manager/leader would have done it. That does not make it wrong. In fact, in many instances the delegatee’s “how” is often an improvement on the manger’s “how.” The manager/leader can then compliment the delegate for a job well done and in turn learn from the process herself.
Now let’s take the other situation, where the delegatee completes the task but doesn’t get the right result. In this case the “how” used may be incorrect or the individual may not be fully capable of carrying out the task. Here the manager/leader can review the process with the individual in a supportive way and together sort out the better “how.” The manager/leader moves into a coaching or mentoring role, maintains the person’s confidence and dignity, while engaging the individual in a learning process.
Level 3: Plan it but check with me before you do it.
In this case the manager/leader is not sure whether the individual can do the task. The manager/leader wants the individual to develop the skill sets to complete the task, but also wants to ensure the individual has thought through the process and expected outcome.
The approach to Level 3 is what I call “Guided Performance Development.” Engaging the individual by having her plot out “how” she intends to “achieve the result” is somewhat of a delicate process. Sometimes the task is given to the individual in advance and the manager/leader asks her to think about the task and come back to discuss it; other times it is presented with an immediate request about how the individual intends to proceed and what results she expects.
As in level 2, the manger becomes the coach. The coach does not “tell” the individual “how” to complete the task, but asks questions like: “How do you think you should proceed with this task? Why do you think this will work? How much time do you think it will take? What results do you expect?”
There should be give and take in these discussions allowing the individual to come to their own conclusions, while at the same time, giving the manager/leader an opportunity to provide guidance toward a positive outcome. Notice that the questions are open-ended and not directive. The whole exercise is about learning, improving and developing performance.
Level 4: Consult with me before you plan it.
At this level the manager/leader wants to ensure that the individual has the skills and capabilities before delegating the authority to do the job.
This is the lowest level of delegated authority, and usually occurs when a new person comes on stream. Trust between the manager/leader and the individual hasn’t solidified yet, and there is little experience about the person’s knowledge and skill capacity. Essentially the manager/leader is testing for this. The manager/leader wants to ensure the individual is clear about the task, the time lines and what is expected. The difference in this case is that the discussion takes place before any planning takes place. Depending on the learning style of the individual, the manager/leader may use a “show and tell” approach – this is how you complete this task, and this is what you can expect - or, she may use open-ended questions as identified in level 3 above.
The learning approach manager/leader uses presupposes that she has some understanding about the learning style of the individual, that is, the individual best learns from “show or tell” or from a more “indirective” approach with someone who has “self-learning” capabilities.
A manager/leader may also use level 4 with an experienced employee. Usually this is a situation which is new, complicated, untried and the manager/leader may not clearly understand how to proceed. Here the manager/leader may want to brainstorm different approaches with the individual, and then let her carry it forward. Again, learning and experimentation take place. In this case there is a high degree of trust between the manager/leader and the individual based on past performance.
“Delegation provides the perfect example of how to win the demands of getting the job done with the business of providing opportunities for learning and development. The trick is to get double mileage out of something you already have to do. (Source unknown)
What about accountability?
Ultimately the manager/leader remains accountable for the delegated task. Manager/leaders should delegate in such a way that the person feels accountable and behaves like she is accountable. However, as President Harry Truman once said, “The buck stops here,” which means the buck stops with the manager/leader. If the manager/leader wants the delegatee to be fully accountable, then she needs to redesign the job description. When the manager/leader delegates, she needs to define accountability so that there is no doubt where it lies and what it covers. Here’s how:
If you are reluctant to delegate there are 11 self-evaluation statements that may give you some insight as to why you may be reluctant. Find the statements by clicking on PDF file below.
Author: Richard P. Fontanie MSW, FCMC
Notes: The terms leader/manager or manager/leader are used interchangeably in these articles. In the normal course of events within an organization people assigned to a management or a leadership role call upon the skills ascribed to both leader and manager. There are times when the person leads, and other times when he manages; and other times when he leads and manages at the same time. When one steps into a management position, management skills are primarily required. When the person moves into a more senior position, leadership skills come more to the fore. The focus of this series is on the “essential” or “foundational” skills required for one moving into a management or leadership role. Hence the term leader/manager or manager/leader is used.
I also try to make my articles gender neutral. However, for clarity sake I use the first-person pronoun but you can apply any gender to the article.