Learning the Art of Delegation


Delegation is the number one skill that managers need to master to become effective leaders. Delegating frees up time for leaders to focus on higher-level initiatives. Delegating also challenges employees to develop new skills and take on more responsibility.

As useful as delegation is, it can be one of the trickiest skills to master. Leaders are often wary of delegation because they don’t want to lose control, or they believe they can’t trust their employees to successfully carry out key initiatives.

Arming leaders with a specific vocabulary and system of delegation helps address these concerns. Choosing from the following delegation types can give leaders more peace of mind and provide employees with a clear set of expectations:

  • Level A: This is the first level of delegation. A leader delegates to an individual (or a team) the responsibility to develop a plan to achieve a specific goal, e.g. reach a new market or integrate different IT systems. The delegatee (the person or team given the delegation) is in charge of understanding the issues, generating ideas, consulting with experts, selecting the best solution or strategy, and presenting a proposal to the leader for review and approval. Once the plan is approved, the delegatee can move forward.
  • Level B: In this next level of delegation, the delegatee has the same responsibility as in Level A – but doesn’t need the leader’s approval to carry out the project. The delegatee does need to consult with the leader and keep the leader informed during the decision-making process. This affords the leader a chance to evaluate how well the delegatee is managing the decision.
  • Level C: In the highest level of delegation, the delegatee has the same level of responsibility as in Level B, plus he or she doesn’t need to consult with or inform the leader during the decision-making process. This third level gives people the greatest amount of autonomy. It is reserved for more routine decisions where the leader clearly trusts the delegatee to be successful.

It is important to note that if circumstances change, it is the leader’s responsibility to change the level of delegation to assure a successful outcome. For example, if a member of the Board of Directors takes a sudden interest in the outcome, a CEO might shift a delegation from Level B to Level A. On the flip side, the same CEO may recognize that his or her input isn’t necessary – or valuable – and shift another delegation from Level B to Level C. It’s all part of learning the art of delegation.

Learn more about the types of decisions and delegation styles in my new book, The Leadership Equation, 10 practices that build a leadership culture.

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