Delegation is critical to leadership. You can’t take on more responsibility unless you are willing to delegate to others. But that doesn’t mean it's always easy.
Some time ago one of my mentees was planning a special event. He was surprised to discover that someone on his planning team had completed a project he hadn’t really authorized. He was clearly frustrated, because he felt the other person had taken more initiative that he was given.
After listening to him describe the situation, I said, “The fault is not with your team member. The problem is that you didn’t make your expectations clear when you delegated this task.” I then asked if he had ever heard of the five levels of delegation. He said no, so I shared them with him.
I realized this was a brand new thought for my young friend. Perhaps it is for you as well.
As a leader, whenever you delegate a task, you need to make it clear what level of authority you are conferring on others:
- Level 1: Do as I say. This means to do exactly what I have asked you to do. Don’t deviate from my instructions. I have already researched the options and determined what I want you to do.
- Level 2: Research and report. This means to research the topic, gather information, and report what you discover. We will discuss it, and then I will make the decision and tell you what I want you to do.
- Level 3: Research and recommend. This means to research the topic, outline the options, and bring your best recommendation. Give me the pros and cons of each option, then tell me what you think we should do. If I agree with your decision, I will authorize you to move forward.
- Level 4: Decide and inform. This means to make a decision and then tell me what you did. I trust you to do the research, make the best decision you can, and then keep me in the loop. I don’t want to be surprised by someone else.
- Level 5: Act independently. This means to make whatever decision you think is best. No need to report back. I trust you completely. I know you will follow through. You have my full support.
The problem is that my mentee thought he was delegating at Level 2. The person on his team assumed he had given him Level 4. The whole problem could have been avoided by clarifying the expectations on the front end.
When delegation goes awry, that’s often the reason. The leader failed to clarify the level of authority. Remember, your team members are not mind readers! They bring their own experience, biases, and energy to work every day. In the absence of clear expectations, they will take whatever action they think best.
You can ensure a better result by mastering the five levels of delegation and teaching them to your team. When you do, this will become a common language that instantly clarifies your intention. You’ll begin to get the results you want instead of surprises. And your team will thank you.
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