In my first leadership position, I didn’t delegate much. I didn’t need to; I had lots of energy, and the load wasn’t too heavy. But as time passed, and I moved on to positions with greater leadership demands, I was confronted with the fact that I had limits. I realized that I needed to focus my efforts on the tasks that only I could do, such as being the main communicator. I needed to learn to delegate everything else.
One of the first things I realized about delegation was that a lot of people do it wrong — or more accurately, they do it only halfway. Many leaders willingly share the load with their followers. But for some reason, they don’t remember to share the power to get it done. They overload and under-empower their people. And their team members end up unable to do what is asked of them.
Empowerment is vital to leadership and delegation. It needs to be at least equal to the load or responsibility that’s been given to the person doing the task. When the load is greater than the empowerment, here’s what happens:
- Morale suffers. Without the power to act and make decisions, followers feel like they’re being asked to do the impossible. That’s an attitude killer.
- Decisions are made slowly. If you as the leader have to sign off on every decision related to a task, you’re crippling the process.
- Creativity is lost. Team members feel chained to your way of doing things, so they don’t feel free to try new and innovative ways of accomplishing objectives.
- Accountability is low. If people feel like they are just a cog in the machinery of getting things done, then they are not motivated to give their best effort. Additionally, leaders can’t really hold people accountable for the parts of the task that they never let go of.
Ken Blanchard writes, “Empowerment means you have the freedom to act; it also means you are accountable for results.”And it’s part of a process. Delegating right takes time and effort. At first, it can feel like it would be faster and easier to just do tasks yourself. And it probably would, at first.
But when you empower people effectively as you delegate, you release them to do the job. And you release yourself to focus on leading them and the rest of your team. Morale goes up. Decisions are made at the lowest possible level, so they happen quickly. People feel free to be creative, so new ways of doing things are discovered. And because you’ve been specific about the task and given people all the power to get it done, you can more easily hold them accountable if things don’t go well.
Here are the levels of empowerment that I take my people through as I gradually release responsibility to them:
- Look into the situation. Report back to me. I’ll decide what to do.
- Look into the situation. Report alternatives with pros and cons, along with your recommendation. I’ll decide what to do.
- Look into it. Let me know what you intend to do, but don’t do it unless I say yes.
- Look into it. Let me know what you intend to do, and do it unless I say no.
- Take action. Let me know what you did.
- Take action. No further interaction required.
I believe empowerment is critical to a leader’s effectiveness. Without it, leaders hold on to too many tasks and decisions, which makes them less effective in doing the things that only they can do.
Do you empower your people? In what areas do you need to give your people the resources and ability to get something done today? The better you become at empowering, the more everyone gets done.