This article originally appeared in HR Florida Review Spring 2020

Leaders face the daily choice of how to use the most limited resource available to them: time. Their challenge is to continually lead more effectively and efficiently at higher levels of organizational complexity. Most every leader I have met admits that they continue to do some things week after week that someone else on the team could easily do. Their rationale includes: (1) the time it would take to get someone up to speed on the task, or (2) the self-deception that they can do it faster and better than anyone else. That choice to keep doing what another could do is what keeps them from letting go of the urgent in order to address the more important. It’s the danger of defaulting to one’s subject matter expertise in operational tactics rather than stepping away from operations to think about strategy. The strategic role of leadership is to see around the corner…to see what others do not yet see. It demands time away from operations by climbing to that lonely 30,000 foot perspective to see what’s ahead. It requires the analysis and synthesis of relevant data: the latest information about the industry, the market, the customer, the competition, the vendor, the employee base, and the changes in technology. Analysis tells a story in the numbers. Synthesis connects that story to your story pointing to what changes are needed in the next 18 or 30 or 48 months to keep and expand market share. Since time is limited, the invitation to every leader is to off-load some tasks in order to address more important responsibilities. It is the “urgent – important” dilemma. How do leaders address the conundrum?

Handing Off and Letting Go

Delegation is a Handing Off process combined with a Letting Go process. Responsibility (Handing Off) is an assignment the leader gives to a team member, along with accountability for results. Authority (Letting Go) is the appropriate power a leader gives to a team member to use time and organizational resources to reach a shared outcome. It is a four-step process of getting a team member ready for full responsibility and full authority. The Return on Investment? The team member gets a stretch assignment that enhances their leadership capacity. The leader frees up time and resources to give attention to strategic issues of greater organizational complexity. When leaders don’t go through the four steps to delegate full responsibility and full authority it diminishes their own capacity – their ability to lead at higher levels of organizational complexity. It also prevents the development of direct reports through the stretch assignments that are handed off. And, it keeps the organization from achieving its productivity potential of delivering services or products efficiently and effectively.

Answering the “Who” Question

There are four Delegation Selection Questions when considering which team member is ready for a stretch assignment:

  1. The Competence Question: Can they do this delegated assignment?
  2. The Bandwidth Question: Do they have time to do this delegated assignment?
  3. The Personal Drive Question: Will they do the delegated assignment successfully?
  4. The Cultural Fit Question: Will we like them while they do the delegated assignment?

The Delegation Matrix

The Delegation Matrix

Developmental Delegation is a process that leverages four messages designed to meet team members at each stage of readiness to take on a new responsibility.

  • Stage One. Low Responsibility/Low Authority. The leader communicates to the team member: “Come watch me do this.” Then they debrief on what the team member observed.
  • Stage Two. High Responsibility/Low Authority. The leader communicates: “Let’s do this together. You help me.” Then they discuss what the team member observed, experienced, and learned.
  • Stage Three. Low Responsibility/High Authority. The leader says: “let’s do this together. This time I’ll watch you do it.” Then, the leader provides feedback for discussion from what was observed.
  • Stage Four. High Responsibility/High Authority. The leaders finally says, “Now you do it, and I will be available to support you.” Then, the leader delegates full responsibility and full authority with ongoing review and support.

Delegation Readiness and Stretch Assignments

Recent leadership development research indicates the value of stretch assignments as the optimum approach to move emerging leaders from a talent pool into a leadership development pipeline. The formula includes four components: (1) micro-learning around leadership competencies, (2) coaching conversations around learning application, (3) on-the-job application to develop new leadership habits, skills, and behaviors that prepare the team member to lead at higher levels of organizational complexity, and (4) reflection that leads to more learning and new application. Investing in the development of team members not only frees up the leader to address more strategic concerns, but it contributes to the engagement and retention of your best talent. It also shapes an organizational culture with a reputation that attracts the best talent in the competitive recruitment landscape.

Delegation only happens by choice never by chance.


Dr. Dick Daniels

Dr. Dick Daniels is Vice President, Consulting Services and an ICF Certified Executive Coach with Right Management’s Florida/Caribbean Region. Dr. Daniels offers Right Management’s clients more than 17 years of leadership development consulting and executive coaching with C-Suite leaders. As a leadership architect he designs customized leadership development frameworks and systems to align emerging, mid-level and senior level leaders with strategic business objectives. As business strategist, coach, adjunct professor, and awarded author, he is a proven resource for shaping a results-focused leadership culture within the unique priorities of each organization.