Why is delegation important? And is there always a need to delegate? Such assertions are part of agitated management scientists. Regardless of geography, organisation, age, colour, creed or any other pre-dominant orientation, it has come to be accepted by all those who ‘manage’: men and materials, that delegation, is the single most important trait that a leader/manager ought to appreciate and practice. No single individual should live in illusion that he/ she can perform all tasks, perpetually. Even the most sharp and intelligent at some point exhibit signs of mental and physical fatigue. The soonest manager realises that it is to their interest to delegate; they ensure a longer run of their professional lives.
While it is significant to know that delegation is critical to efficiency, it is equally important to know that only ‘assignments’ can be delegated. Skills sets and expertise possessed by one cannot be delegated. Therefore, in the process of delegation, it becomes of great value to find, people who would possess the requisite knowledge and skill, to accept newer challenges. Skill set can be acquired through training and development function; they are essentially transferable, but certainly not delegate-able.
What should be delegated is another nagging management question. Is it authority’ that should be delegated or is it, ‘responsibility’ or is it a combination of both? At the very mention of the word ‘delegate’, the mind conjures receipt of ‘authority’, which understanding is usually sans appreciation of the associated responsibility. No authority is complete, without adequate knowledge of what would constitute as a natural responsibility. They move hand in glove; always in tandem. The lack of one of these traits will invariably always impact heavily upon the other. Authority, without any associated responsibility, is a recipe for a corporate management disaster; it is akin to the implication of the age old adage “power corrupts and absolute power, corrupts absolutely”.
Delegation of work comes into play only when there is work quantum that far exceeds the available pool of human capital. If an organisation is a growing institution, it will allow for breakdown of function and processes, to facilitate efficiency. Such thinking will prevent creation of Frankenstein’s, who may be instituted with authority, but are not willing to pass portion of their authority to other colleagues. In this process, not only they harm themselves but also the entire chain of working -- firstly, they cannot climb the corporate ladder because of their own fears and that prevents them from delegating; secondly, by assuring that no adequate back up to their respective function is available. Few managers, who suffer from lack of knowledge, ability and skill, delegate their responsibility only to those who possess the required traits, but they remain scared to pass the necessary authority to those assigned with various tasks. These are typical cases of creating islands of responsibility within the organisation, who possess no authority to change their own condition for better performance.
Besides, these, there is another brand of leaders/ managers who suffer from fatigue in a certain function, for reasons of having spent long years in the same business or back office division; such delegate their ‘work’ while they closely guard the ‘authority’ against their chest. Managers who stop and fail to do pencil pushing usually entrap themselves in the cobweb having authority, but no skill to match; they cease and throw off their learning cap, consequently they remain uninformed of newer techniques of performing the same function- they delegate the task, but become hostage to the delegatee! In my view such act is certainly not delegation, it is abject abdication. A prolonged status of abdication of responsibility is a barmy attitude towards management. It is unwise to delegate only responsibility, especially if lethargy is its motivator. How much of his / her work, should the manager delegate? All of it! It would be an ideal setting if the manager can be leading a team, of skilful people who can be entrusted with all the assignments that are under the wing of the manager- this is a rarity. But should it happen, the manager becomes available to the organisation, for undertaking more productive tasks, with enhanced authority and responsibility.
Should managers give regular oversight to delegated functions? Yes, the supervisor must keep a keen eye on the discharge of responsibility being demonstrated by the delegatee. It would be antithetical to the very concept of delegation, any failure to give oversight. No manager can afford to remain ambivalent to the consequences of his decision of delegation. An all-courant manager would not be one, who would delegate and then forget about it. Initiated managers do a pre-agreement with delegatees on the need to be kept informed on periodic basis, on given formats. No, delegation should ever take place, if the manager is not equipped with a competent team; or at least must have a team, with potential to learn and move forward.
Resistance, that is usually self-generated, out of fears of losing personal importance; however misplaced the thought may be, is a major impediment in developing people through the process of delegation. Managers who do not find delegation a part of their professional persona, discover, in short time, to their hurt; that at some point they will crack under the pressure of having to do everything. I have seen managers, who carry this fear, to indulge in partial delegation, where they decide to assign a task, within the overall framework of tasks that has its roots limited or specific authority to achieve success.
Delegation relates to creating an environment for larger participation; giving of important tasks to colleagues; giving space for performance, with necessary tools in place for periodic follow up, without having to breath down the necks; a non-restrictive workplace and avoidance of usage of functional / corporate titles, while accomplishing tasks. The badge must be set aside for all to be equal team members.
Delegatees should be those who know or have the sound judgment to use authority and responsibility for productive purposes. In delegation, no leader should worry himself about who between him / her and the team appears as successful; it is actually fascinating to witness, at how much is achieved, where the manager doesn’t care, who takes or gets credit for success.
Delegation is not giving away of powers, it is all about empowering others, while you (the leader) remains the source of empowerment. Decision making in an organisation mustn’t be restricted to one or handful of individuals, it must run along the entire chain of hierarchy. A good leader of people would involve larger segments into the decision making process. A manager who delegates decision making (authority plus responsibility) will find that his / her skill as a leader will be tested most, because the diversity of the team’s skill set will bring to his attention, differing of opinions; and that’s when the disparities will have to be channelized by him, to make them into a single, preferably unanimous, decision.
It is also a reality that on the shop floor, a lot is done to undo the positive effects of the policy of empowerment, through sheer callousness of disrespecting the value of trust, reposed by the leader. All tools for success must be made available. The lingo of empowerment must usher an environment, where there is impelling desire to take up challenges, with inputs and full responsibility. Empowerment or delegation must make colleagues more accountable for their action, decision and results.
When a leader delegates and empowers his team, he sets in motion colleagues who will most likely demonstrate great love for the work, they do, with no signs of fatigue. A colleague delegated with task and the requisite authority will work with more enthusiasm that is bound to yield better results. “Those who roll up their selves are rarely in danger of losing their shirt.”
Delegation creates motivation, and a motivated colleague needs no praise from anyone. He is self propelled. Delegated work is looked upon as delight not drudgery. It is an elixir for heightened performance and never as a struggle. There is no greater blessedness than to be gifted with quality of work that can be achieved, with the tools of empowerment (delegation). Readers, delegate, so you can move forward and climb the corporate ladder; failure to do so, you would perish in your tracks.
The writer is a banker and freelance contributor