When You Delegate, Include Tools for Success

RBLP Staff – Building and Leading Resilient Teams Series

As a leader who came up through the ranks, you can quickly recall those instances where you were given a job but not the authority to see it through all the way. This is more common than you’d think. But, with a bit of planning, you can develop the skill of both delegating responsibilities and empowering the person with decision-making authority.

There’s nothing more frustrating than being handed an assignment without the authority to carry it out. Successfully executing a critical task requires the project leader to constantly make decisions large and small. But if that person has not been given the full range of prerogatives that go hand in hand with responsibility, you will never know if they are leadership material. And they will come out to the other end of the project unhappy, disengaged,  and probably looking for a new job.

When you delegate, ask yourself: Have I equipped this person with the tools to carry out the assignment independently? For instance, does the person have a budget for the project? Do they have a fixed deadline? Do they have the authority to draw upon other team members to assist them? Is it okay for them to find new ways to solve problems to keep the process moving forward? Must they constantly check in with you every time they hit a crossroads in the project?

By granting them the authority to make the calls along the way, you are truly testing their leadership potential. It may cost the team time and money as your candidate finds their way to the finish line. But ask yourself: What is the worst-case scenario if we go a bit over budget or miss the deadline by a week? The project was completed. The organization survived. And both you and your candidate had the opportunity for a tremendous learning experience.

A newspaper publisher hired a new editor, and gave him this directive: I don’t care how you do it, but I want you to rebuild the news team, and do it within six months. He was good to his word: He gave the new fellow a budget, complete authority to hire and fire, and the right to set salaries within the budget to reward high performers and put laggards on notice. Occasionally, his editor screwed up. Usually, it involved bypassing a human resources requirement. But the boss was generous: “Ah, that’s a rookie mistake. You’ll make them. Just remember, next year, you won’t be a rookie!”

The rebuilt, reinvigorated staff responded with a potent news product that won new readers and advertisers. The editor felt empowered and stopped bugging his boss over every little change he wanted to make. And the publisher won praise from his corporate bosses for his wise selection – and the increased revenue.

Instances like this may sound easy. But for the leader, delegation + authority requires guts, determination, patience, and a focus on the future. As the leader, you put yourself out there every time you invest a direct report with responsibility and decision-making authority. You will sometimes be disappointed. But over the long haul, this management philosophy will work in everyone’s favor, as new leaders bubble up through the ranks, and you rise on their shoulders.