The primary job of leadership in any enterprise is three-fold. The first is to define and cast a vision. The second is to build necessary alignments in process and people. The third essential concern of a leader is to build and empower the culture of execution. The loftiest vision will die where execution is lacking. Without people and the adequate capacity to engage them in the process, no vision can be effectively executed.
What does ‘delegation’ actually entail? We will answer that in the word itself as an acronym. If you are a regular reader of this column, you would have noticed that I love using acronyms of the subject under discourse a lot. This is because they make the subject easy to remember.
The first letter in the word DELEGATION is a ‘D’. This stands for three things that I call the fundamentals of delegation. First, you DECIDE what the assignment is that needs to be delegated and who to. These would usually be assignments that you feel least capable of doing at any given time by virtue of competence, passion or schedule. The next step is to DEFINE what the assignment is in no ambiguous terms that make for easy comprehension. This is because if you don’t clearly define it, the delegate cannot find it. Whatever is not specific cannot also be dynamic. Once clearly defined, you then take time to DISCUSS the assignment and the expected deliverables with appropriate time-lines for performance. This is in line with the counsel of scriptures that establishes the necessity to write down a vision so clearly and plainly that anyone reading it can run with it. When a delegate cannot understand the expectations because they are not very clearly expressed, effective performance is the immediate casualty.
The letter ‘E’ stands for ‘EMPOWER’. Delegating an assignment without giving the delegate the power of execution is a guaranteed way to ensure that the task is dead on arrival. As we have mentioned earlier in this series, a secure leader is happy to share power. Insecure leaders hug it to the detriment of all concerned, including himself. Do not delegate an assignment you have no intention of empowering the employee to execute! One typical bane of the developing world is the inability to surrender or share power. So it is common to find managers who can never make any policy statement or decision without recourse to a boss or CEO who thrives on micro-managing. Such organizations hardly grow beyond the competence of the boss. As a leader, when you delegate assignments, empower the delegate with the necessary information, working tools and material resources as well as corresponding authority to take decisions. Then take time to communicate this through the entire chain of command in the organization so that everyone knows who the go-to person is on that matter or project. Unless in the case of a serious infraction on the part of the delegate, if anyone breaches the protocol, refer them appropriately.
‘L’ stands for LISTEN. When you have delegated an assignment, listen to the delegate when he provides feedback. Feedback is the breakfast of champions. Without feedback, it is difficult to assess progress. Unfortunately, many leaders are too preoccupied with just barking orders that they hardly leave room for any input from the people they delegate responsibilities to. It is important to invite delegates to consultation sessions aimed at hearing them speak on the progress of work vis-à-vis the assignment delegated to them. Feedback is the opportunity to know if time-lines are being followed, if targets are being met as well as the challenges encountered in the course of execution.
For delegation to be effective, you will need to use the information in the feedback you have received to EVALUATE performance periodically. Feedback provides the necessary data for evaluation to be meaningful. Evaluation is critical to the follow-up process. You must follow up on what you delegated. As you evaluate progress, take time to offer guidance and advice as and when needed but ensure minimum interference (if any at all) in the delegate’s performance process.
GIVE credit where and when necessary. Everyone who is doing good deserves commendation. When a subordinate has done a good job that results in an achievement, he deserves to be given credit for it. It is not uncommon to find leaders who don’t acknowledge collective efforts. All credits must come to them. I hate to rain on your parade but no man has monopoly of knowledge. Clapping is not an activity done with one hand. Once the project is completed, give full credit and recognition to the person who gets the job done. If a job is accomplished within a team dynamic, then share credit with the rest of the team. Leaders who hug the limelight at the expense of their followers never earn the respect of such followers. People are encouraged and challenged to do more when their contribution is acknowledged.
It is not however enough to merely give credit to your team members for a job well done, show your gratitude practically. APPRECIATION is what the letter ‘A’ in delegation stands for. When a subordinate has performed creditably in an assigned task, it is not out of place to appreciate him with a dinner or lunch or even a gift. It is not so much the value of the gift that matters but the gesture. Whatever we appreciate appreciates.
TRUST is the platform on which effective delegation stands. There is no point delegating a task to someone you cannot trust to deliver results. Once you have delegated an assignment, believe that the delegate will perform. Stand aside and trust him enough to do the needful
INITIATIVE should be factored into the delegation process. When people are entrusted with a task especially with no overbearing leader breathing down their necks, it fires up their creative capacity and innovativeness. This is the bedrock of true resourcefulness.
In the process of execution, occasional failure should not be seen as a sign of incompetence. Focus on the results, not the process. If the delegate is unable to execute the assignment effectively, take responsibility for it rather than using him or her as a scapegoat. Failure is an indication of the limits of competence or limitations of strategy. With failure, you know what the employee lacks and the areas where he needs further training or for which he is not equipped. His competences may be elsewhere. Lessons from the experience should help you to delegate more effectively, provide more training as necessary or simply delegate the next similar project to someone else.
Delegation should be done ONE task at a time. As much as possible, do not give a delegate more than one task at a time if you don’t want him to get distracted. Always begin with small tasks and increase as the delegate demonstrates improved capacity for greater assignments.
The final letter, ‘N’ stands for NEVER abdicate primary responsibility for the assignment. As the leader, the buck still stops at your desk. Never delegate what you have no intention of supervising.
Delegation is not synonymous with abdication.
Remember, the sky is not your limit, God is!