Delegation: from control to trust

I have been coaching leaders and leadership teams for the last 10 years to be better and better leaders that create the results they really desire in organizations. Each coaching project is dedicated to one or more development goals. I have coached people to achieve many development goals but the most common objective, both at individual and team level, has been somehow linked to delegation. For those who have reached leading roles, bigger or smaller, at the top of the organization or in the middle of the organization, the challenge of learning to delegate is part of the journey or, as one of the leaders I have trained said, “I know very well that I have to delegate, everyone tells me this, but I cannot do it.” From my coaching experience with leaders, I noticed a close link between the success as a leader and the ability to delegate: the higher the ability to delegate, the more the results achieved and the learning are bigger, more impressive and more long lasting.

In the current organizational environment, the word “delegation” is very commonly used, but little understood, from my perspective. In common understanding, a delegation means giving others what you do not want, or you can (no longer) do. It’s a common understanding. This understanding of the term is limiting and incomplete. The Romanian Dictionary defines delegation in broader terms and is a good source of inspiration “to entrusts someone, in a limited time span, with the execution, supervision or organization of a piece of work” but also “passes on the right to act as a representative of a person or of an institution” or “to pass on one’s power or rights “and “to invest someone with authority”.

Delegation is based on trust: self-confidence and confidence in others, the ability to believe, to rely on, to count on yourself and on others. In order to delegate well in the organizational environment, as well as in other environments, and to create the space for trust, it is important to appreciate the contracts with other people, the well-made agreements: commercial agreements, psychological agreements, short-term ones, here and now but on medium and long term … A clear contract is the foundation for trust. Contracting is the ability to “put on the same page the common understanding, following concrete results with clear responsibilities and deadlines” (this is my own definition). The contract, the agreement made between two or more people is the form/structure that captures the understanding and promises between the parties involved. Delegation, empowerment, responsibility and accountability is based on trust and clear agreements. When there is confidence, as a way of being present in the environment and capable of creating and respecting clear agreements, behaviours like fast response, creativity, innovation, quality, mutual support, useful feedback, options  appear easily…

There is a lot of information around us about delegation and the linear approach tells us that we need to take the following steps (as sequences): define the task, evaluate the skill and need for learning, explain the benefits / reasons, tell what results you are pursuing, consider the resources you need, set the deadline, give support and communicate, give feedback on the result. In my practice, I have learned that when you delegate tasks, you create conformist people and when you delegate authority, you create leaders.

The current organizational environment requires us to come out of the linear approach and think in terms of interconnection – no one is a deserted island, every role in the organization, every human being, is part of a whole that it influences and is depending on.

Delegation is a leadership style, a way for leaders to lead organizations, teams, other people, without the need to control them, creating simple and efficient structures that focus all actions and resources on the desired outcomes. On the collective level, we can look at delegation as a space (frame or context) for action. In this perspective, delegation is an initiative that every member of the team, the organization, the system in question takes, within a framework that allows it. The delegation management framework favours “upward” sending of information regarding the mistakes committed in taking initiatives from all sides of the organization / team / system concerned, together with information on actions taken for correcting them. The leader’s role here is to set and optimize the delegation framework: will encourage and facilitate responsiveness (ability to act immediately to deal with an emergency or unforeseen situation, without asking for  permission from management), will help create clear agreements, working and learning processes that lead to the desired results but also to the creation of clear communication channels and interfaces between all parts of the team / organization / system, without the intervention or decision from management. It is about creating a context of learning and autonomy, designed to allow finding and implementation of the necessary solutions, development of the competences of everyone, including the ones of leader itself, increasing the impact everyone has in the organization. In this context, the position of the leader is not central, the team / organization / system is not dependent, it does not wait for its input – the position of the leader is often peripheral, leaving the visibility and responsibility for action directly to the team members. Peripheral position doesn’t mean the leader not being present or missing from the picture; when needed to reiterate, validate, reinforce, maintain “a clean space”, to support, the leader easily takes the center stage, but does not stay there all the time. Leadership delegation teaches leaders to contribute from a low position, sometimes with a step behind the team, a place from  which he/she can observe but listen: to those who have ideas, those who contradict authority, those with different opinions or those who question the way things work , those who support ideas but also those take a close look on people’s feelings and emotions, in order to integrate all relevant perspectives into value creation.

The success of the team ensures the success of her leader.

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