Delegation of Authority: Why We Do It Wrong

When I was a very young and innocent junior employee in a huge multinational corporate company, I made an honest mistake that would haunt me forever. At the time, I participated in several in-house trainings on personal development and soft skills. During one of these training sessions, the instructor asked when a manager delegates and I was fast to raise my hand and proudly announce that managers delegate when they don’t want or they can’t do a task themselves. Everybody froze for a few seconds until the instructor kindly corrected me, stating that managers delegate to give opportunities to their team members to rise and shine, stand out from the crowd, prove themselves, go after that promotion, etc…

What a conflict was that in my mind! Because those words made sense, but my so-far experience said otherwise. Remember that English is not my first language, and the term “delegation” was only introduced to me through work. So when I googled delegation, I was left speechless. Up until today, I consider delegation a giant mind trap. It’s always upon the manager to use it for the right reasons, but it takes experience to see the injustice and avoid the trap without the consequences when delegation is used for all the wrong reasons.

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Delegating the right way is more than a skill itself; it is a form of art. That is an overestimate, you might think? Well, let me showcase my argument here. Usually, before one becomes a manager, one is an employee. In other words, before one becomes a leader, one is a doer. This shift from doing to leading is not easy; we should not trust it as an automated upgrade that comes with training and experience.

Delegation as a word means nothing. We need to refer to it in its full context to give it substance and meaning; it is the delegation of authority and power, not a mere distribution of tasks and absolutely not a means to get rid of errands. It has a deeper purpose, a more uplifting one. It starts with transferring responsibility, a responsibility that later translates to authority. An authority that must be recognised and rewarded; otherwise, this fuss was for nothing and we are back to point zero.

Delegation as a word means nothing. We need to refer to it in its full context to give it substance and meaning; It is the delegation of authority and power, not a mere distribution of tasks and absolutely not a means to get rid of errands.

Your Workplace Guru

Effective delegation of authority is the epitome of successfully shared authority that can highly facilitate a balanced climbing up the company’s hierarchy ladder. Inferiors acquire more skills, and superiors free up time to concentrate on more high-level strategic tasks. Everyone is pushed upwards but in a healthy way and within a framework of trust. It is the ultimate organizational optimizer because it is human-centric. A win-win situation for everyone and everything, including revenue, productivity and a mentally healthy workforce that feels motivated and invested. It also comes with a fantastic bonus: it effortlessly takes micro-management out of the picture!

Delegation of authority is meant to be empowering. It is intended to motivate and not create an overwhelming process that leads to confused, overworked staff struggling to navigate through everyday tasks with unclear guidance. This should be our mantra to success.

adult displeased businesswoman with papers in light modern office

So, what gets in the way and blurs the lines between effective delegation and whatever this other thing we do is? Why are we doing it wrong? Let’s dig into it!

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Four reasons we delegate authority in the wrong way

1. “I don’t know exactly what delegation means or how am I supposed to do it right.”

This sounds too easy and convenient to be a legit reason and will probably get you suspicious of my intentions here. Am I just trying to justify false behaviour? No, I am only trying to see the bigger picture; it is not always the managers to be blamed for everything. It can be that the training is inadequate or even that the company’s culture or ethical code is out of date.

The most usual issue that arises in these cases is the inability to determine who is accountable for the final result and this is what creates confusion. Managers only delegate tasks but not the authority and delegation of authority is inextricably linked to accountability. This knot has to be untied, start from the basics.

2. “I think I can do it better and/or faster.”

This is a tricky one because it implies micro-management tendencies, trust issues and fear of losing control. This is bad management. A thought process as such needs intervening from higher levels but not necessarily in terms of escalations and passive-aggressive behaviours that might end up spoiling the team’s climate. Invest in soft-skills training, invest in people. Reboot the way people think organizations should operate. Shift the focus from the time- and resources-consuming delegation process to the value of mentorship.

3. “I’m afraid I might look lazy and/or inadequate”.

There is a sense of guilt involved here, some underlying personal insecurities. A well-hidden impostor syndrome, maybe? (Don’t we all get this impostor syndrome from time to time? I know I do!). These cases are in desperate need of effective communication. Managers who operate this way need help to see beyond their fears. They need support to overcome their insecurities and tear down those walls they built for themselves.

4. ” I want to be the only star shining in this corporate sky”.

I saved the unpopular opinion for last. There are managers who are just inappropriate for the position they hold. Not everyone is trainable, and not everyone is willing; some are just the wrong people at the wrong place at the wrong time. Let’s embrace this truth. If you don’t want to see your inferiors rise and shine, your ego might be too big to fit the room. I cannot imagine a level of training or effective communication that will solve this issue. 

If you want to do a few small things right, do them yourself. If you want to do great things and make a big impact, learn to delegate. 

ohn C. Maxwell

You can find a plethora of valuable information on the web on how to do the delegation dance right and get that “Best Boss” cup as a gift from your team, but I’d like to narrow it down a little for you to give you some perspective. Whenever in doubt, always remember: Is this a responsibility I’m transferring now or just a mere task?

Additional Resources

The Importance Of Delegating Effectively

To Be a Great Leader, You Have to Learn How to Delegate Well

The Importance of Delegation for Leadership

HOW TO DELEGATE EFFECTIVELY: 9 TIPS FOR MANAGERS

Delegation for the win! 6 steps to empower and get more done

How to Delegate Tasks Effectively (and Why It’s Important)

Principles of Delegation

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