The Pathway to Delegation

Delegating management responsibility is a problem for many Delegationin leadership positions and particularly business owners. Delegation is a core concept to being a leader. However, there can be resistance by leaders to letting go of responsibility (and recognition) to subordinates who might stumble and put them (and the company) in a bad light or to overshadow their leader thereby getting the recognition that they are seeking. The result is over worked leaders, under developed, and frustrated, subordinates and organization disharmony.

If delegating is core to management leadership, why is it a stumbling block and what is the pathway for successful delegation and organization harmony?

Obstacles to Delegation
A leader uncomfortable with delegating responsibility to a subordinate is usually working with the following constraints:

Subordinate/Department Leader/Owner
  • Poor job descriptions including poorly defined or assigned duties of responsibility and authority.
  • Poor to inconsistently defined business practices or processes.
  • Ineffective feedback systems.
  • Tendency to micro-manage
  • Uncomfortable with “Trust But Verify” principle
  • Not accountable to anyone for how well they delegate.


There might be other issues to list on both sides of the delegation problem, but the list above covers what I have seen and repetitively experienced. Let’s look at each issue and what measures can be taken to remove them as an obstacle to delegation.

Job Description
A chronic problem in many companies is missing, outdated or poorly structured job descriptions for the subordinate level and often throughout the organization from executives to line employees. Why is this important? If the job is defined poorly, then the employee is unsure of what they are supposed to do (responsibility) and the resources they have to accomplish their duties (authority). Consequently, valuable resources and effort are misaligned and poorly applied to achieving the objectives of the business.

Related to good job definition is the successful recruitment of personnel well suited for the responsibility and authority required for the job. Recruiting interviews should include questions that address whether the candidate has prior experience consistent with the job description and the responsibility and authority consistent with the position.

More than one senior person, as well as peers (those that that candidate will be expected to work with), should be involved in the interview process. This interview approach provides multiple impressions of the candidate and qualifications to succeed in the position. If the candidate is selected, that will help to successfully integrate the new employee into the organization.

Business Practices and Processes
The integrity of business practices and processes is critical to effective delegation. Practices and processes that are not accurate or executed consistently will affect the predictable group performance predictably but also meet expectations of senior management.

All business practices and procedures need to be documented and employees trained and monitored in their use. This needs to be done for each level of the organization so that all operations are aligned properly to meet company objectives. You can involve employees in the creation of this information, but it must be complied with and adopted consistently.

Feedback Systems Feedback systems are critical for a department or group to be aware of process performance. If critical processes are not measured, then predictable outcomes will be at risk. Effective feedback systems eliminate unknowns about the operation and allow it to be alerted to trends that can be corrected and therefore preserve operational performance.

Seasoned operational managers will want effective feedback systems as part of their responsibility and authority in order to report forecast performance and results to executive management. Some of the feedback systems will be formal (company defined) and others will most likely be unique to the management style of the department or group manager.

The leader that is a micro-manager is obsessed with knowing every detail of the business including unnecessary information. This projects a lack of confidence in subordinates and results in doubling up on efforts to get information over directing critical activities related to business performance. While the senior manager or owner is “informed” or “involved” it is common to see subordinate employees pull back from exercising their authority for fear of being reversed or over ruled by the senior manager.

What is the motivation of the senior manager to micro-manage? The root cause is a lack of their own self-confidence or confidence in subordinates in performing their responsibilities.

  • To address the self-confidence of the manager, an outsider may be necessary to identify the source of the weakness in the manager’s ability to have self-confidence. Targeted mentoring can help the manager step back, identify their strengths and weaknesses and manage more effectively.
  • If the manager lacks confidence in the ability of the subordinate employee then they may need to focus on the areas of concern and train or mentor the subordinate to a level where micro-management is not necessary.
    • If this fails, then the subordinate may not be well suited for the current position and should be moved to a position where they can be successful.

Trust But Verify
Delegation does not suggest that the senior manager should delegate and forget. Trust between manager and subordinate is important and fundamental to delegation. However, the senior manager needs to be conscious of what has been delegated and use various techniques to “verify” that things are going as well as reported.

One of the best ways to do this is to MBWA (Management By Walking Around) where the senior manager can “feel” if things are going well. An experienced senior manager can observe and interact with employees to get a feel for how things are going. This may be a function of the ease with which line employees greet him and openly discuss business or personal matters. Where people draw away, when they see the senior manager, can raise a red flag that needs further investigation.

Using a management dashboard that includes many of the feedback performance indicators used at the manager level. An effective dashboard can help the senior manager direct his attention to the most important areas to spend his time and attention rather than shot gunning the organization looking for problems or short comings.

It may be possible for a senior manager/owner, on their own, to turn their management style around and delegate effectively. A responsible senior manager/owner will work with someone with the appropriate expertise’to make a lasting change in their management style in order to delegate effectively. This might be someone on their board, an outside mentor from a previous work relationship or a professional consultant.

The purpose of the accountability relationship is to hold the senior manager/owner accountable to make the necessary changes, not only in their own style, and also mentor key managers to become more successful and independent performers.

The pathway to successful delegation lies in improving the confidence level throughout the organization.

  • Good job descriptions that define the work to be performed.
  • Complete documentation of practices and procedures
  • Employees recruited into positions that they are qualified for.
  • Effective feedback systems that measure critical operations.
  • Mentoring of executives and subordinates to be successful in their positions.

Good delegation does not mean that you will never be drawn into detail issues within your business. However, when crisis occur that focus you will be able to invest the time and energy necessary to bring the crisis under control confident that other areas of your business are being managed effectively.

Invest in your organization, walk the pathway to successful delegation.

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