A Beholder’s View of the Art of Delegation

October 29, 2009 at 10:54 am Leave a comment


Photo: Dawn Galbreath

Delegation is often referred to as “an art,” not because it’s highly prized or extremely distinctive, but because one’s ability to delegate artfully is developed and honed through training, practice and experience. Oddly, though, this particular art is rarely commented on by the beholder – the one who, as with works of art such as paintings and sculptures, determines the actual value.

The person at the receiving end of the delegation transaction – the delegatee, or more commonly, the delegate – should be able to appreciate some benefit if, in fact, delegation is an art. The potential benefits to a delegate include, opportunity to learn, growth, advancement, increased visibility . . . and the like. Without this appreciation, how can the delegation be viewed as “art?”

In order for delegation to be art, it must be appreciated

The art of delegation requires a mutual level of understanding. Why, then, are delegation skills usually taught only to those who will implement them, and not to those who will be affected by them or can value them? I believe that if delegation skills were developed on both sides of this equation – by the delegator and the delegate – the responsibility of delegating would less likely turn into the liability it often becomes.

One reason lack of delegation skills is so often cited as a management weakness is because the problem is allowed to persist and is only recognized when it results in failure. The people most likely to recognize the deficiency early on, are the least apt or able to do anything about it. It must be recognized, however, that delegation should not simply be viewed as a management skill, but a professional skill at all levels of the organization. In order to leverage this critical skill, everyone should be adept at and responsible for successful delegation, no matter what their role in the process.

Basics of Delegating (by Carter McNamara, PhD. Authenticity Consulting, LLC) provides a functional list of points relative to effectively developing this skill. Delegators and delegates alike should be well-versed in these basics. The delegate should be trained to be equally responsible for the process by being able to recognize a good delegator, and expected to hold the delegator accountable.

Be able to recognize a good delegator

There is a difference between a person who delegates well and a person who’s just really good at passing the buck. Know the signs.

If you’re being asked (or told) to take on a task that requires a skill you don’t have, it is your responsibility to bring that fact to light. Take a positive tact and offer to acquire the necessary skill (rather than saying, “I can’t do that,” and sounding like you’re making an excuse). But make it clear if the delegator neglected to comply with point #2 (in the list linked above) and did not take the necessary steps to select the right person for the job.

If you think you are the right person for the job, don’t assume that you (or the delegator) really know what the job is. This is where points #3, #4 and #5 come in. Having the preferred results clearly specified by the delegator verifies that the delegator knows what he or she really wants, and has some understanding of what will be required to get those results. The importance of these steps can’t be emphasized enough. Without them, the delegator runs the risk of thoughtlessly giving orders, and appearing naïve in the long run. The delegate runs the risk of working hard, rather than smart, only to fail in the end.

Hold the delegator accountable

If the delegator is truly operating artfully, he or she will be open to your input and feedback. Points #6 and #7 clearly stipulate exactly that. If the delegator takes a total hands-off approach, and doesn’t want to be bothered with updates or kept informed about challenges or unforeseen developments, they have effectively passed the buck rather than delegated. Dealing with a situation like this requires that the delegate (that’s you) take a proactive stance by documenting the status of the project, including details related to barriers and issues that have required your above-and-beyond efforts. If successful results become increasingly elusive, you will have documentation to support you, and possibly provide a means for correcting or improving the situation.

Share responsibility for success
Points #8 and #9 have to do with the success of the process, or lack thereof. But, if points #1 through #7 are artfully handled (by both the delegator and the delegate), there should be no dissatisfaction; and rewards should be given all around – to all involved, including the manager.

Delegation is only an art if it is truly mastered using skills and techniques that are intricately balanced, and that produce results that are of more than ordinary significance.


Entry filed under: Coaching, Productivity. Tags: , .

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