Lessons in Corporate Leadership – Delegation

Delegation comes with increased responsibility, as one’s job description shifts from “doing” to “getting it done.” While it is common knowledge that delegation is required in management, few perform it well. First, let’s review some of the basics of delegation.

Delegation is an act the supervisor does to get things done through others. Delegation does not change the ultimately responsible person for the task, i.e, the supervisor. Therefore, it requires trust between the delegator and the delegate. Further, it requires a clear understanding of the desired outcome. What happens between understanding the task and delivering the results is where things may get thorny. While the supervisor is responsible for the end-result, he willingly gives away the control over the methodology to achieve the end-result to his delegate.

Egan (Egan, 2005) describes the five steps of delegation as follows:
1) Define task,
2) Select delegate,
3) Communicate task,
4) Monitor progress,
5) Review results.

Now, let me share with you an experience I observed, where almost all of the above steps were violated.

“Wow!” exclaimed the president of the company. The words that followed showed his level of excitement and appreciation for the work that was being presented to him.

Earlier that month, he had asked one of his senior directors to find a place that would be the future corporate headquarters. He wanted to create a refined, sophisticated and elegant image for the company and the headquarters had to fit the image.

While the space we were touring looked prime, the location did not exactly fit what the president desired. We all knew this but were surprised by his articulate show of excitement and support. I thought to myself that economics had won over a trendy location in the city. The director showing off his find was proud and happy. So, he went on to finalize the deal and sign a long-term lease.

I learned about the president’s real feelings on the way back to our interim headquarters. He hated the location and did not feel that the director was up to the job. He thought, the director did not understand the president’s vision for the company and, therefore, had failed to find the right place.

Now, what is wrong with this story? Or, maybe I should ask, “what is right in it?” Basically, four out of five steps of proper delegation was violated.

The only step the president did correctly was to define the task. His senior circle knew his vision. However, he chose a delegate who was more concerned about the cost of the place and did not appreciate the president’s no-holds-barred approach to the headquarters. Having chosen such a delegate, the president should have made his task clear to the director. Instead, he assumed that everyone in the organization knew and understood his vision. Therefore, no further communication was held between the president and the director.

Finally, the president failed to monitor the progress as the director continued on with his search. Although he made attempts to obtain feedback, the final one being the facility tour I mentioned above, the president chose not to do so.

The end result was a mistake that cost the company hundreds of thousands of dollars and the senior director his job.

How could it be avoided? Easily, in my opinion. I already shared my thoughts on how the president could have avoided a costly mistake on his part. The director, on the other hand, could have taken a few steps to better perform in the task:
1) Discuss the task with the president frequently and in specific terms. Discussing specifics engages both stakeholders and prompts real feedback.
2) Update the stakeholder in private before making a public display. It is much more likely to attract critical feedback in a private discussion, where specifics are discussed.
3) Request a final review of the results before committing to it.

I hope you find this article helpful and useful. I welcome comments and thoughts on this topic.

Egan, B.D., 2005, “Delegate or Suffocate – the Art of Working Through Others,” http://www.globalknowledge.com.

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