Posted by: Joe Hoffman | January 15, 2008


Everyone in business, whether for themselves or in a managerial role, and even in our personal lives, has to deal with the issue of delegation. No one can do all of the things needed in life or business without help. At least not and still expand your wealth. There simply is not enough time. Tasks must be delegated to others. Remember that machines, including and maybe more significantly for the coming decades, computers can be, and are, given tasks to perform.

Rather than rehash the myriad of definitions and theories of delegation, I’d rather offer you my simplistic take on it.

Delegation has three dimensions: Capability (skills required), Trust and Reporting.

Delegation is a continuum, starting with, I will tell you exactly what to do, how to do it and I’ll watch you do it. There is no Trust vector and I don’t know your Capability.

At the highest level you will delegate to someone or have delegated to you, the power to be apprised of a situation (input), act on it and move on without reporting. This happens when you have demonstrated the Capability to handle the situation, that you can be Trusted to perform with the best interest of the enterprise in mind and that it is unnecessary to tell anyone (Report) that something occurred.

The complexity of most jobs or positions is such that you will always be at different points in the delegation continuum for various elements of the position. Take the CEO of a small corporation for example. She will be unaware of most of the day to day activity but she will still report to the Board of Directors and the stock holders on financial status and strategic plans. In some cases the BOD will provide direction and require a report back. So, one person, one job, both ends of the delegation spectrum and probably various levels in between.

What does this mean to you as a manager or leader?

Every position that you hire someone into has a set of expected responsibilities and capabilities. The individual that you hire is your best estimate of the match but in truth the new person is really an unknown quantity. I have found that what works best for me is to place them one or two levels down on the spectrum of delegation, and let them earn my trust to move up the delegation continuum. The process shouldn’t take long for most positions, at least not the first move up, sometimes only a matter of weeks.

There is a very strong positive motivator inherent in this approach because with a reasonably complex position, you as the manager will have to be in close touch with the individual’s performance and you will have the opportunity to provide real reward by showing increased levels of trust in your employee. The flip side of this is, of course, the fact that if you erred in the hiring assessment, not too much damage will be done before you can correct it.

The willingness to delegate is necessary for every manger if they are to be successful, and the more that you can effectively delegate, the better your business will perform. Trust is the operative function and it must be earned, “the old fashioned way”.


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