[January 29, 2021] We already know, as leaders, that delegating authority is difficult but necessary. Yesterday in Part 1 (link here), I gave an example from my time as an Infantry Company Commander. This is the kind of job that allows you to see your men face-to-face and get to know every one of them. Feedback on your ability to lead is nearly instantaneous. That’s the good news.
When a leader lets go of some of their authority to get a job done, others in their organization have a chance to grow. That is how I learned. As a Platoon Leader, my Company Commander gradually gave me more tasks with greater importance, and he also provided me with authority to do the job. If I were to get any pushback, he told me to tell them that I represented him. In other words, he had my back.
Here are five recommendations to help the delegation process move along:
- Pick the Right Person: This is difficult and beyond today’s discussion, but most of us know what this means. Choose someone who has proven themselves, has the right attitude and is a hard worker. Don’t choose someone who sees themselves as a victim or who has a bad attitude.
- Provide Clear and Precise Instruction: The subordinate you chose to carry out an assigned task must be clear about the expectations, standards, obstacles, and history. This is a recommendation often overlooked, frequently with unintended but predictable problems.
- Give Sufficient Authority: A problem with delegating is not giving enough authority and then saddling that individual with too much responsibility. Responsibility without authority is a recipe for disaster.
- Provide Assistance: I had a commander who had the philosophy of “fire and forget.” Once he was assigned a task with authority to go along with it, he ignored the consequences and found his soldiers wanting. He failed to remain part of the process and left his men to flounder in their work.
- Reduce Risks: When possible, reduce outside risks to that person who is being tasked. Protect them but keep them informed about what you are doing. When you teach, mentor, and teach, you reduce unnecessary risks that could jeopardize the project.
Delegating authority may go against our psychological thinking, but any leader with experience knows that this is the only way to succeed. Doing so provides for a positive work environment, and the results will be better than one can imagine.
“Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.” – George S. Patton
Remember always that a leader can delegate authority but can never delegate responsibility.