The 3 Attributes of Success in Delegating Authority

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Probably the most common misunderstanding I hear when trying to help other leaders is that they believe there is a universal rule that leaders always must delegate authority. This common fallacy comes from weak readers who turn into weak leaders. Yes, the reading effects the leading.

In more averagely-run organizations, the employees (or stakeholders) are not very well vetted. That means the leader has little idea about their true capacity, their strengths, and their integrity. Without clarity in these areas, how do we know who is worthy of delegated authority? (Note: there is a significant difference between delegated authority and delegated work. Think through the difference.)

In leadership, we must find 3 attributes or 3 qualities in the environment before delegating any authority. Without all 3 qualities in place, never trust the person and definitely do not trust the team. These attributes include:

1 Healthy Culture – The teams’ culture must be healthy. Their incentives must be aligned with the organizations’ mission. Their success must always lead to the organizations’ missional success. In addition, there must be high job satisfaction scores, often called employee engagement. This is an internalized engagement, or commitment, to the organization and especially to their manager. They should have no reason to be looking for outside employment.

2 Proactive Engagement – Being proactively engaged, means that an employee will sense an issue (or a probable client need) will arise in the future and insists that the problem be remedied before anyone else understands it’s an issue. This is commonly called instinct or intuition. This is a key characteristic of a good knowledge worker. This is the type of person who typically has good emotional intelligence and will perceive a future issue with a coworker and proactively (in advance) talk through the potential issue.

3 Self-Discipline – The nature of self-discipline is rare, in that it is wrapped up in integrity. Self-discipline has to do with the need for someone to make a commitment to the project and fulfill that commitment without requiring an outside force to exert oversight. The person’s internal integrity requires them to execute regardless of the circumstances – especially sacrificing personal time and personal pet projects.

Only when a manager has all 3 attributes of success in place – a healthy culture, proactive engagement, and self-discipline – is it OK for a leader to delegate authority to that person. Without any one of these factors, the answer should be no to delegating authority. It is still to occasionally delegate work, but not decision-making authority. It is the leader’s job to maintain a healthy culture before executing strategy. Afterall, Drucker said culture eats strategy for breakfast.

Rick Walker, CEO, GreenEfficient, Inc.

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