Leveraging Leadership Skills for Effective Delegation

By Anne Sigman

What’s the Connection Between Leadership and Delegation?

Leadership, in simple terms, is the ability to guide somebody through a task or challenge by lending one’s personal experience and knowledge. Leadership can be personal or professional, with a wide range of domains falling under each. However, its basic structure remains the same. I’d like to share my thoughts on corporate leadership in terms of delegation and the role of leaders in obtaining the best from their team.

But first, let’s understand the importance of guidance, an element of effective delegation, from a simple yet colossal part of our lives: language.

Learning through guidance

We are not born with the knowledge of languages; we acquire it over time with experience and practice. Whether we receive formal training on speaking a language or not, being surrounded by its speakers is enough for us to use it. On the contrary, academic training for a language alone does not suffice; we must practice speaking it to attain fluency. The more we practice speaking a language, the more confidently we can use it as we gradually advance to higher levels.

The relationship between knowledge, practice, and exposure requires skill-building. But there’s another very crucial element that we can easily overlook here: a mentor. We cannot learn a language in social isolation; we need to be surrounded by other speakers who guide us in using it. These guides could be native or comparatively more learned speakers such as parents and elders in one’s social circle, language teachers, friends, audio-video sources, and so on. The more experienced speakers (read: leaders) help a child settle into a language through constant guidance, advice, and correction.

Connecting the dots

What has this example got to do with corporate leadership and delegation? Well, everything. We are all learners or leaders in different stages and activities of life, sometimes both at once. We cannot excel at something or successfully meet an objective in the absence of leadership. To delegate effectively in a corporate setup, one must be able to leverage their leadership skills fully. As a leadership mentor for corporate personnel, I have come across systems that fail at competent delegation, only to overburden teams with their own tasks and that of the leaders. And when competent delegation is jeopardized, the impact is suffered by the entire organization.

So where do these systems fail?  Here are some commonly observed patterns of defective delegation. Although focusing on the leadership aspect of delegation, I will also shed light on the receiving end while suggesting solutions on how unhealthy patterns of delegation can be overcome.

Unhealthy Behavior Commonly Observed in Delegation

A task is considered successful when combined with a commitment to achieve a particular outcome. When one cannot commit to the objective, then it has already failed. Commitment is achieved on many different levels.  Below are some unhealthy behaviors I have observed that disrupt effective delegation, leading to a lack of commitment by the leader and team members. We will also look at some questions that challenge the dynamic.

Problems of Leadership

  • Immature leadership within corporations: Big or small, young or old, corporations often function with an underlying assumption that the people who are delegated towards know everything and will always be able to figure a way out of problems. How do leaders develop their team members to have the confidence to solve problems themselves?
  • Leaders believe that nobody can do it better than them: Some leaders put way too much trust in their abilities while placing minimal trust in their team. If the leader is so adept at doing things, then what’s the need for a team?
  • Lack of communication: A communication gap between leaders and their team can hinder the exchange of ideas and opinions, making delegation an entirely one-way phenomenon. What is the most effective two-way communication system from one team member to another and from the team upward and back again?
  • A task is assigned and forgotten: Delegation is not simply about allocating tasks; a leader needs to follow up with their team and assist them in meeting objectives.  How do leaders hold team members accountable?
  • The inability to give up control: Some leaders can be excessively obsessed with having things their way in the workplace. As a consequence, employees do not have the freedom to operate within the team.  How do leaders develop the skills of their team to feel comfortable giving up control?

Problems of Execution 

  • Self-doubt: The ones being delegated to are often held back by self-limiting beliefs that might stem from a lack of knowledge or experience.  How can leaders mentor staff to overcome self-doubt and become more competent in their role.
  • Fear of asking questions: The fear of being reprimanded for not knowing something also keeps team members from asking questions. They do so without realizing that voicing their doubts is much better than handling a task without knowledge, which increases the chances of mishandling it.  How do leaders create a culture of responsibility without reprimand?

Why is Delegation a Big Deal?

In my experience as a leadership professional, I have witnessed the positive influence of effective leadership on teams. When a leader responsibly delegates tasks while ensuring the comfort of their team, it becomes a coordinated and collaborative effort towards achieving a goal where each member feels empowered and motivated. I mean, who wouldn’t want to feel important and appreciated for the value they bring to a company!

Effective delegation lessens the power distance between leaders and their team, boosting employees’ confidence and improving their performance. Since delegation is a soft skill that deals with people, trust also becomes essential in relationship building between managers and their teams.

Leaders fail to recognize that in the process of assigning tasks, they become mentors who are responsible for the growth of their team members as valuable employees and future leaders. Therefore, delegation is more likely to fail unless managers guide their teams in the right direction by trusting their skills.  And the benefits of effective and strategic delegation are many:

  • The ideal way isn’t always the best: Leaders tend to place their methods and traditional practices over their team’s. With evolved corporate cultures, especially in the present times, the workplace has become intellectually and culturally diverse. What was previously accepted as ideal because of its universality might not remain so today. Employees come from different backgrounds and experiences with unique ways of approaching a problem. Denying differences in perspectives can hinder creativity and innovation, which is a major setback in the present times. Embracing different approaches may empower those taken to problem-solving while improving the overall organization.
  • Being in the business vs. being on the business: Leaders are either overinvested in delegated tasks or do not worry about them at all. There needs to be a balance between the two. Leaders must share their expertise with the team equally as much as they give them the freedom to innovate and discover the ‘how’ of the process.
  • Do not become a barrier to your and others’ growth: The mindset that ‘nobody can do it better than me’ can prove fatal to a leader’s growth. By giving others the chance to figure things out, leaders also become a part of their own development. Additionally, space/time for improvement should be available if things don’t work out as they were supposed to. And no, that still doesn’t mean one should be in control of everything.
  • A leader is equally accountable for a task: A team and its manager are expected to work together, so both sides must have equal participation. Likewise, both parties must share the credit and blame too. How can an individual be held accountable for something that wasn’t delegated justly?

The Attributes of Effective Delegation

For delegation to be effective, a leader needs to be in learning mode where they are perceptive towards change in corporate culture, leadership mindset, and work attitudes. It takes a self-aware leader to look at things holistically beyond their face value and accept the bigger picture.

Delegation needs to come with a mentorship mindset where a leader feels responsible for the team’s growth and the attainment of success instead of simply assigning tasks to get things off one’s plate. For this, teams need to be educated and given the right tools. For instance, a sales manager delegating to a sales team needs to understand their ideal prospect and how they will get that appointment. It sets clear expectations and increases understanding of what’s required to meet those objectives. There also must be an agreement on meeting the expectations; if the commitment isn’t in place, there’s still room for improvement.

How to Hold Someone Accountable

If you are a leader delegating to a team, below is a checklist to help you understand if you’re doing it right.

  • Communication: I discussed the project with my team and received/implemented their inputs.
  • Agreement: The team reached a consensus on the strategy and distribution of responsibility.
  • Reliability: My team members can come up to me and ask questions to clear doubts.
  • Commitment: My team is committed to getting the job done within the given time frame. I trust them to do a good job.
  • Follow-up:  I consistently and appropriately reach out to my team members and provide my assistance wherever needed. I also make myself readily available.
  • Accountability: Each of my team members is accountable for their roles just as much as I am for mine. The result is a collective effort, and we share its consequences and praises equally.

Looking back at the language acquisition example, the magnitude of a leader’s ability to guide a young and impressionable mind is brought further into perspective through the points discussed in this article. The fact that I have communicated my message to you through this article is a consequence of being surrounded by competent language leaders who constantly guided me!

And now that we are on the topic of communication, I shall conclude with this final note: the success of delegation is ultimately dependent on communication and feedback. For a task to succeed, there needs to be a consensus between a team and its leader, which cannot be achieved without communication. The exchange of feedback between both parties is a vital factor in relationship building and skills development. Effective communication is the key.

You cannot delegate effectively unless you communicate clearly.

Anne Sigman, Partner 

Clark Leadership

Clark Leadership Logo