Employee delegating tasks

Understanding the art of delegation

Why empowering your team drives success

3 minute read
Employee delegating tasks

In JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series, despite being a powerful wizard, Gandalf delegates the fellowship’s most important task to Frodo Baggins.

While the executive world is not Middle Earth, the lesson for leaders is clear – no matter how strong you are, no one can do it all on their own.

Delegation is an essential skill in the arsenal of an effective executive leader, having resounding effects on team productivity, motivation and general happiness.

What is delegation to an executive leader?

Harvard Business School Edward W. Conard Business Administration Associate Professor Ethan Bernstein said delegation was, in essence, a transfer of authority but not accountability.

“I would define it broadly as the act of assigning responsibility to someone else – usually a subordinate – to complete a specific task or activity, or make a particular decision while maintaining accountability for the outcomes,” he said.

Associate Professor Bernstein said delegation was not a sign of weakness.

“In fact, it may be more a concept of comparative advantage and strengths than the avoidance of weaknesses,” he said.

“Good delegation allows for increased motivation and capabilities, as the people to whom the work is allocated receive more autonomy and a chance to put their expertise to use."

“The more motivated a person becomes, the more they seek to improve their capabilities.

“Then, the more capable they become, the more driven they are to do the work – thus, there is a virtuous cycle between these two.”

The value of delegation

According to Associate Professor Bernstein, delegation is a skill that benefits both leaders and employees.

“For the leader, delegation allows leverage, such that the work of many can benefit the outcomes of the leader’s organisation,” he said.

“For individuals, it enables skill development, engagement, feelings of ownership and participation, and many other benefits keeping them motivated.”

Subsequently, these positives combine to make a business run smoother and more efficiently.

“For the organisation, it allows work to be distributed in productive ways so that it can be reintegrated into the greater whole,” Associate Professor Bernstein said.

Dedication is not only useful in corporate environments but also in other workplaces.

St John Western Australia Chief Preventative Officer Megs O’Donnell said it was one of the most important professional development tools a leader could use.

“I am responsible for a broad range of services provided by St John WA – from first aid training, social sustainability, brand and marketing to customer experience,” she said.

“I can’t be an expert in everything but the success of St John WA depends on us delivering well across all these areas.

“We achieve this through delegation, which empowers our team and leverages their talent.

“Our executive team is always looking for opportunities for our specialists to align their skills and expertise with our core purpose so, collectively, we can deliver on our promise to bring leading health and wellbeing services to as many people as possible in WA.”

Mastering the art

Ms O’Donnell said excelling in delegation was all about achieving an equal measure of belief and humility.

“You need to strike the right balance of confidence to lead and be accountable while being humble enough to know when you are not the smartest person in the room and realising you don’t have to be,” she said.

“I am constantly learning in my role, so I believe asking questions, being open to new ideas and utilising the abilities of my team through delegation is critical to the success of my position as a leader.”