Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 10, Issue 10;   March 10, 2010: Guidelines for Delegation

Guidelines for Delegation

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Last updated: July 23, 2019

Mastering the art of delegation can increase your productivity, and help to develop the skills of the people you lead or manage. And it makes them better delegators, too. Here are some guidelines for delegation.
Admiral Edward Ratcliffe Garth Russell Evans, first Baron Mountevans of Chelsea

Admiral Edward Ratcliffe Garth Russell Evans, 1st Baron Mountevans of Chelsea. Earlier in his career, he was second in command of the British Antarctic Expedition 1910 (also known as the Terra Nova expedition). He was in command of the Terra Nova from Cardiff to Capetown, where the expedition leader, Capt. Robert F. Scott, caught up with the Terra Nova by fast mail boat. The plan had been for then Lt. Evans to be in command until the ship reached Melbourne, where Capt. Scott would be waiting and then assume command. But having caught up with the Terra Nova early, in Capetown, Capt. Scott assumed command there, thus infringing — or rescinding without cause — previously delegated authority. Lt. Evans hid his feelings, but he nevertheless took this change of plan as a slur, and thus the tension between the two leaders began to take hold and bloom into a serious problem of leadership. For more, see Roland Huntford's history, The Last Place on Earth. Photo obtained from Wikipedia.

Delegating is the investing of responsibility and authority from you to your subordinates. It creates reserves for you and gives your subordinates a chance to grow. Too often, though, troubles arise because we don't have a clear understanding of how to delegate effectively. Here are some guidelines you might find helpful.

You can't delegate your own accountability
Even though you might have delegated something, you remain accountable for it. Your subordinate is accountable to you, but you are still accountable for whatever you delegated.
Be prepared to rescind
Sometimes, things don't work out. You might have delegated inappropriately, or your subordinate might fail for some reason. Since you always retain the responsibility to revisit your decision, be prepared to do so, but never rescind without cause.
Your subordinate has final say
Even if you believe that your delegation decisions were correct, your subordinates control their own levels of passion and commitment. They might agree to accept what you delegate, but unless they're truly committed, delegation can create trouble.
Keep your promises
When what you delegate is unappealing, there's a temptation to promise something in exchange. If you do promise something, keep that promise. If you can't keep the promise, don't make the promise.
The greater the risk, the more important is delegation
In risky situations, emergencies can occur, because when things go wrong, they sometimes go wrong in herds. To create reserves to manage these emergencies, delegate.
Delegate fully
When you delegate something, delegate it fully. You remain accountable for it, but it's no longer yours. Get out of the way.
Delegate authority, not just work
Delegating the work of a task, and not the authority to determine the manner of accomplishing it, can be demoralizing for the subordinate. This is particularly true of tasks requiring creativity, insight, or commitment.
Never infringe delegated authority
Infringing delegated You can't delegate
your own accountability
authority is demoralizing and creates problems for future delegation. If you feel the need to infringe, but you don't see a need to rescind the delegation, you're probably over the line.
Have an inform-as-soon-as-you-know norm
Make an agreement that each of you will inform the other as soon as you learn anything that changes the risk profile of whatever you delegated. Your subordinate agrees to alert you when trouble looms, and you agree to tell your subordinate about any enhanced risks. It's a trusting partnership.
Establish checkpoint expectations
Since you remain accountable for whatever you delegated, you have a right to reasonable monitoring of progress. Work out with your subordinate a mutually acceptable set of checkpoints, and stick to them, asking for status reporting neither more frequently nor less frequently than you agreed.

Most important is clear, two-way communication between you and your subordinate. Mutual understanding of your mutual agreement is essential to a successful delegation experience. OK, now. You can take it from here. Go to top Top  Next issue: Risk Management Risk: I  Next Issue

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