Chapter 6

A Different Approach to Delegation

A leader’s job is to set the vision and then work relentlessly to create the environment that allows and inspires their team to make it a reality. 
In this respect, our job is more about delivering through others and less about what we physically deliver ourselves.   
Unfortunately, much of what we know about delegation comes from the Management Theory developed during the Industrial Revolution. This was when organisations sought to get the maximum productivity from manual workers on a production line in a factory.   
But the problem is we have continued to apply much of this outdated management theory to the “knowledge workers” in an office environment. At the same time, we scratch our heads, wondering why our people aren’t more engaged. 

A Familiar Cycle

An all too familiar story plays out in most businesses around the world.  

Following each annual engagement survey, we introduce another set of initiatives and employee benefits, yet the needle only moves fractionally in the right direction, if at all. The leadership team looks at the HR department as if this is their problem and continues to have the same frustrating conversations… 

We gave them inflationary pay-rises, free tea and coffee, bowls of fresh fruit, and table football!  

What more do we have to do?

But what if the solution was much simpler and cheaper? 

Inspiring Delegation

Over fifteen years of experience tell me that a major reason for this lack of engagement is the way in which leaders delegate.

The most common approach is to tell peoplewhatneeds to be achieved andhowto do it. The problem with this is that it provides people with very little freedom and autonomy, which we know leads to low levels of engagement. We also know autonomy is one of the most universal motivators.

The alternative approach is to adopt the British Army’s concept of “Mission Command.”  

This focuses on telling peoplewhatneeds to be achieved,whythe task is important, andthe boundarieswithin which they must operate.

Once you’ve done this, get out of their way and let them work out ‘thehow’for themselves. Or, as General Patton said:

Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do, and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.”

This approach does take a little more time and effort, but the results and impact on employee engagement are phenomenal (and a whole lot cheaper than bowls of fruit, table football tables, and installing Google’esque slides in the office!). 


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Further actions

Listen to this podcast

Mastering Delegation for Effective Leadership - Episode 143

Whether you’re a seasoned leader looking to enhance your delegation skills or an aspiring manager looking to build a strong foundation, this episode will provide valuable insights and actionable advice to help you master delegation.

We’ll explore five of the most common fears that prevent us from delegating enough and learn what to do about them.

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Book Recommendation

Turn the Ship Around by David Marquet

“Turn the Ship Around!” by L. David Marquet recounts the remarkable journey of transforming the U.S. Navy’s underperforming submarine crew into a top-performing unit.

Marquet’s realisation, after assuming command of a different submarine type, led to a critical shift in leadership perspective. Recognising the dangers of a “leader-follower” culture, he empowered his crew by decentralising decision-making, fostering engagement, and promoting a “leader-leader” model.

Within a year, the once demoralised crew of the Santa Fe became proactive and empowered, propelling the submarine to the top of the fleet rankings.

Marquet’s leadership model, though not new to the military, holds valuable lessons for organisations worldwide, emphasising autonomy, proactive thinking, and leadership development at all levels.

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