Exactly How to Delegate

Did you know that there are 5 different levels of delegation? If you don’t clarify which level you intend when handing off an assignment or project, you are likely to run into problems…

For example, Sandra gave her direct report an important project to relieve some of her own burden at work. She is frustrated when that direct report keeps checking in (almost hourly) with status updates and questions for approval. She grumbles, “I might as well have done it myself!”

Paul is also frustrated, but for a different reason. He handed off a critical assignment to a promising direct report that he hoped would be a great development opportunity. A week later, he is surprised that he has not gotten any status report. He is worried the employee is dropping the ball and not taking the assignment seriously.

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The ability to delegate is critical for leadership success.  Bearing the burden all by yourself is unsustainable, so you need to assemble a team of qualified individuals to assist you.  You also have to be able to give these future leaders some authority and responsibility.  

How much do you want them deciding on their own?  How often do you want them to check in?  To avoid miscommunication and conflict, set clear expectations about the level of authority you are handing them.

Five levels of delegation:*

Level 1:  Do exactly what I ask.  I have already decided what I want the final outcome to look like.  I already researched all the options and know what I want.  Just follow my instructions.

Level 2:  Gather information.  I want you to research the topic and bring back a summary report.  We will discuss the information together.  Then I will make a decision and tell you what I want you to do next.

Level 3:  Make a recommendation.  I would like you to research the topic and outline several options.  Be prepared to give me the pros and cons of each option.  Make a recommendation by telling me what you think we should do.  If I agree with your recommendation, I will authorize you to move forward.

Level 4:  Make a decision.  I trust you to do the research and make the best decision you can.  Just keep me in the loop and tell me what you are doing.  I don’t want to be surprised at the end.

Level 5:  Implement.  Make whatever decision you think is best and move forward on your own.  I trust you completely to implement your best decision.  There is no need to check in with me.  You have my full support.

The problem with Sandra is that she thought she was delegating at Level 5 while her direct report was operating at Level 1.  Paul’s direct report was assuming his assignment was given at Level 5 while Paul wanted to be kept informed at Level 3.  You can avoid these kinds of problems by clarifying your expectations at the front end. 

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* I have seen multiple variations of these 5 levels from many different sources.  I’m not sure who deserves credit for the original!



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