In leadership, one of the things we are always being reminded of is the importance of delegation, and with good reason. It not only ensures an even distribution of work and responsibility, it also provides important opportunities for individual exploration and growth. I expect we all agree on that.
But when is it important not to delegate matters to others?
As leaders, regardless of our level in an organization, there are times when we have to rely on our strength of character to call upon our backbone and take charge.
So here are some situations where I think Delegation is not an option:
- When we have to deliver bad news or make a change that we know will not be well received.
Let’s face it, everyone likes to be popular but leadership is not about popularity. It involves making tough decisions, sometimes decisions that affect jobs and the futures of those who do them. It means not only delivering tough messages personally but staying around to respond to difficult questions and participating in the process of making hard and sometimes upsetting transitions.
- When the objectives of an assignment are unclear or people don’t have the tools they need to get the job done.
Delegating an assignment that is not well thought out or does not include the tools necessary to implement it, is pretty much guaranteeing failure. And, it does little for the people charged with implementation, apart from adding to their frustration level.
It is the leader’s job to ensure clarity around what s/he wants to achieve and to provide the resources necessary to promote success. Turning a concept into an assignment while it is still in its formative stage makes everyone’s job harder.
- When something goes wrong that affects the entire department or company
So let’s say that things are motoring along nicely in your domain. People are attending to their responsibilities and you are delegating assignments in accordance with your knowledge of their capabilities. Great.
And then, something goes wrong. Someone makes a big mistake that reverberates beyond your sphere of control, affecting other areas of the organization and its reputation.
While you might have delegated the work assignment, the responsibility for the outcome of it rests with you. That’s why you get paid the big bucks, as they say. It is your job to find out specifically what went wrong and why. It is your job to work with the person or people involved in bringing the mistake about and taking whatever corrective action is deemed appropriate. And, you are the one that must be accountable. ‘Nuff said.
Here is an article that illustrates the reactions of a number of senior executives when faced with crises in their organizations. The one that comes prominently to mind for me is Michael McCain. He put himself directly in the line of fire when the plant in Ontario became contaminated with the Listeria bacterium. Of course, I’m not sure what the outcome for Maple Leaf would have been had he not stepped up and taken responsibility for a very grave situation, but my hunch is that the company’s recovery would have been seriously in doubt.
- When you are trying something new and the risk of failure is high
In any enterprise, innovation is crucial to growth and sustainability. As such, risk is an inherent part of business life. If a project being contemplated carries with it a high risk/reward ratio, it also requires full involvement by the leader. To some extent, this will mitigate the risk and send the message that, while you asking others to “go where no man has gone before” you will be right there with them, to share in the glory…or the blame.
People often say that leadership is not for the faint of heart. I have described only four situations where a leader must stand up and be counted. There are no doubt countless others.
What comes to mind for you?