We can’t do it all by ourselves. It’s true in leadership just as it is in life. Trying to achieve our goals without asking for help usually slows us down on our path. This is why human beings have learned to build teams and why good leadership is regarded so highly. When we build a team around us, it’s important to utilize those team members effectively to accomplish our mission and properly delegating authority is key to making that happen. Usually when we think about delegating a decision or task to someone on our team, we think about it in terms of something that we either don’t have the time or energy to handle, or it’s something we don’t want to deal with ourselves. An alternative way to consider this is using delegation and empowerment to develop the individual capabilities of our team members.
Delegation and Empowerment – The Payoff
Delegating to our team members and empowering them to make decisions pays vast dividends beyond the immediate payoff of getting a task done or a decision made. Sending one of our team members off on a journey to develop their own decision-making process and engage in critical thinking will help them grow in a way that simply focusing on the technical aspects of their job can’t provide. Engaging in this kind of leadership development will help produce team members who understand our vision and can show initiative to take action to meet team goals without needing direct supervision.
How to Develop Leaders Using Delegation and Empowerment
It’s important to make a distinction between simply delegating tasks to our team members and empowering them to make decisions. While assigning tasks and managing work flow among the team is an important aspect of leadership, if we want to grow and develop our team members, we need to give them more than tasks to engage in. We should be striving to delegate not just actions, but to delegate the authority to solve problems and make decisions that support our goals. Not everyone is ready to jump right in and be a decision maker right away, so here a four ways that we can develop leaders on our teams by empowering them while guiding them at the same time.
- Challenge Them – Delegate a project that actually matters. Much like setting goals for ourselves, it should be achievable but challenging. Success shouldn’t be 100% guaranteed. Giving a team member a decision to make that is too easy or doesn’t have significant impact will result in limited growth.
- Push them out of their comfort zone – True leaders are comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty, or at least not afraid of it. We can help our team become more comfortable learning to act without perfect information by guiding and mentoring them through situations that expand the boundaries of their comfort zone. Since every team member is different, it will take some consideration to determine what each one is comfortable with. Assessing how to help each team member to expand their comfort zone can be a key factor in who we delegate a decision or project to.
- Let them struggle – It can be a very difficult balance between providing mentoring and advice and breaking the problem open for our team. We should strive to be coaches for them, not problem solvers. When they are struggling, we should ask questions, not provide answers. A little adversity is a good thing. It helps people bond and break down the barriers between them. If interpersonal barriers are part of the problem, allowing the team to solve these issues for themselves will provide them a better set of tools for interpersonal relationships in the future.
- Let there be potential to fail – We always need to assess the stakes of the decision we are delegating. If this is a “failure is not an option” situation, we may not want to delegate the whole decision, but maybe only pieces of it. Failure teaches our team to evaluate what they have already tried and adapt in order to succeed as well as building perseverance and determination. Your team will learn more about themselves and their leadership style by failing initially, then pivoting until they succeed than if they are immediately successful every time.
Applying these four considerations when you are trying to figure out who to delegate that important decision to will help develop strong leadership among the members of our team. Don’t forget that the one of the goals is to grow their capabilities as much as it is to distribute the work around the team. In some cases, the necessity to achieve the mission will drive that decision, but it always benefits us to look for opportunities to develop our team members while we achieve our goals. Delegation and empowerment, when considered thoughtfully, help us meet both of those needs.
Share your experiences with delegation and empowerment in the comments.
Photo Credit: By tableatny (originally posted to Flickr as BXP135677) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons