The Difference in Delegation

Webster’s defines responsibility as: the state or fact of being accountable or to blame for something and the state or fact of having a duty to deal with something or someone.

Authority is defined as: the power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience. Another definition says: a person or organization having power or control in a particular, typically political or administrative, sphere. Still another definition says: the right to act in a specified way, delegated from one person or organization to another.

Notice the key differences between the definitions of responsibility and authority. When leaders delegate a task and that delegation fails it is most often because the leader delegated the responsibility to complete the task without also delegating the authority required to accomplish it. 

The person that the task was delegated to is accountable and can be “blamed” for the failure but in reality they had little chance for success because the delegator insisted on holding on to the power, or authority, to actually accomplish the task.

Effective delegation is one of the most productive methods for building future leaders in any leader’s tool box. Unfortunately, many leaders choose simple delegation over effective delegation. 

They don’t have the confidence in their people or themselves to delegate both responsibility and authority for a task.  They make their people responsible for a potential failure without providing them with a major key to delegation success, authority.

What these types of leaders often fail to understand is that their own success is completely dependent upon the success of their people. When they set their people up for potential failure they set themselves up for potential failure as well.

Another thing some leaders fail to understand is that while they can indeed fully delegate the authority required to succeed at a task, responsibility can never be fully delegated. The leader or delegator, will always maintain some responsibility for the task that was previously theirs. 

When leaders covet authority to the degree that they cannot share it they fail at one of their foremost responsibilities: building more leaders. 

I was asked not long ago about the keys to building future leaders. One of the “keys” I answered with was allowing people to fail. Allowing them to fail and also allowing them to “fix” the failure themselves. Let them make a mistake, let them figure out what the mistake was. Let them figure out how it was made and how it can be fixed and avoided the next time. Let them do all this with you as their leader along side them to coach and support, not DO. Help them find their success so that they will know how to succeed when you’re not there to coach and support them.

None of that “figuring out” will likely happen if they don’t have the authority to “fix” the mistake as well.

Do you trust your leadership ability enough to trust the people you lead? Do you have the confidence to share your own authority so your next generation of leaders will one day have the confidence to share it too?

How you answer those two questions will go along way towards determining whether you’re building a compliant following or you’re building committed leaders. 

7 thoughts on “The Difference in Delegation

  1. True that!

    I remember witnessing an owner of a small business, delegating a project to a follower.

    After asking the constituent his strategy, the biz owner said “That sounds great, but, if I were you” yada yada yada.

    The dude’s reaction? It looked like the wind was knocked out of his sails. His balloon went, pop!

    At that moment, the owner took away all of the creative juices (this was a graphic design firm) from the eager Gen Y creative.

    If you’re going to delegate, stay out of the way and let them fly like an eagle or splat on the sidewalk. And by all means, as you say, let them figure it out on their own.

    • Ha, perhaps the most destructive words in leadership “but if I were you…” Those words steal energy, creativity and absolutely crush initiative. It makes you wonder why they delegated the task in the first place.

  2. I’m really enjoying the design and layout of your blog.

    It’s a very easy on the eyes which makes it much more pleasant for me to come
    here and visit more often. Did you hire out a designer to create your theme?

    Great work!

    • Thanks, I’m glad you enjoy the site. It’s actually just a WordPress template. My wife has designed sites and I should probably give her the credit for picking it out 🙂

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