Leading Through Delegating

Delegation is the act of handing over responsibility and authority over specific tasks without abdicating accountability for them. Delegation is an integral component of leadership (specifically, participative leadership) because the leader gives the group the authority and responsibility for making a decision – although he or she establishes parameters in which the decision must fall, and approval may be required before the decision can be implemented.

The artful skill of delegation has long been a hallmark of effective leadership. Leaders have a responsibility to cast the organizational vision, and develop followers to execute on that vision. Essentially followers become the “arms and legs” of their leaders. Through delegation, a leader essentially empowers others to prove or disprove their own skills and abilities. In the book Making the Team: A Guide for Managers, Leigh Thompson explored the two-fold objective of delegation: “to invite others to have a share in the performance of work; to have leaders do other, more important things; and to mentor” (p. 315).

In their book Virtuoso Teams: Lessons from Teams that Changed Their Worlds, Andy Boynton and Bill Fischer confirmed Thompson’s assertion by conveying the story of Colonel Leslie Groves, military leader of the famed Manhattan Project. The authors reported that although Groves was an authoritative leader, he embraced several precepts: recruit the best; delegate as much as possible, avoid direct control of every detail; transform existing departments and offices into vehicles for the purpose rather than create needless bureaucratic duplication” (p. 46).

In my opinion, Marissa Mayer (Yahoo’s new CEO) would do well to revisit the tenets of delegation as she solidifies her tenure with the company. It’s been reported that she reviews every new hire at Yahoo, which is admirable…to a point. It’s been reported that Yahoo had traditionally hired employees who were not enthusiastic about immediately impacting the bottom-line – and these folks were tolerated rather than moved out of the organization.

Still, it appears as though Mayer’s solution (e.g. slowing down the recruiting process so that she can review EVERY resume) could negatively affect their talent management pipeline. I applaud Mayer’s attempt at revising Yahoo’s corporate culture – but is this too much?

I ask you – can a leader effectively delegate AND still ensure that his or her vision is being executed among the “rank and file”?

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One response to “Leading Through Delegating

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