Type the word “delegate” and search for synonyms. You will see words like: hand over, farm out, pass on, give, allot and assign! Most of these words or phrases merely suggest that delegating implies handing over responsibility to some one to get something done, which would have been yours to do in the first place! This almost implies that the person you are delegating something to, may or may not be needed to get this job done in the long run and hence he/she is merely a temporary crutch, someone for use for now, just to get by! With such intent, the subject matter being delegated may be reduced to mere tasks, such as attending a meeting, taking care of some paper work, keeping track of the progress of some event, etc.
It is my belief that we live in a world of tasks and solutions. Tasks are those, which are repeated (and often). Such tasks are amenable to automation in the world we live in today. Hence there is little or no need to delegate them. For example any one could mark their presence in any meeting from any where in the world – by phone, video, web meeting … So, if attendance in a meeting (i.e) merely showing up in a meeting as a warm body, is all that is needed then avoid delegating! In fact, your colleagues and subordinates may resent such delegation of mere tasks. Such task-oriented delegation is respected and even sought after, only where there is a lot of emphasis in hierarchy and politics and where people consider merely showing up in such meetings as a badge of honor!
The word that seems appropriate as a synonym for delegate would appear to be: Entrust. I like this meaning very much. Delegation based on trust is much more than delegation based on exercise or transfer of authority. It implies that both parties – the delegator and the delegate – both understand the subject matter well. They also understand the comprehensive nature of the task on hand, what and why and the expectation of the end results. In such case, the delegation is for a complete solution, not for arbitrary tasks or assignments. With this outlook, delegating becomes a fun experience for all involved.
I recall an interesting experience from a few years ago. My junior colleague and I were traveling around in Europe giving marketing seminars. Finally we arrived at our last stop at Stockholm. I was convinced that my colleague could do just as well as I could for my part of the presentations. Besides that, we were both listening to each other for a whole week! So, when we met for breakfast, I told him “today I would like to delegate my role to you. My colleague said, “Are you out of your mind? You can’t be serious”. I said, “Yes I am”. It was a bit of risk taking. But it was also a chance for me to “delegate” since I fully trusted my colleague and his competence. Clearly he was jolted for a while, but recovered his composure rather quickly. As it turned out, he did very well and never looked back. It was the beginning of the next phase in his career, with confidence in his own ability!
The point is this: Each attempt to delegate can be a whole new experience and an opportunity to experiment with the capabilities of employees as well as an opportunity to nurture and mentor them. If you look at it this way, there is plenty of room to delegate. On the other hand if you look at it merely as the handing over of a task, there is more of a reluctance and unwillingness to part with! There are many bosses who huff and puff and claim that there is not enough time in a day to get everything done. They are constantly on the go, traveling world-wide, working in many time zones, using many gadgets and constantly wired up. One can wonder if they truly understand the beauty and joy of delegating!
Delegating (i.e) entrust need not be limited to work situations. It is a great opportunity to show the trust, when we delegate certain roles and functions to our children, our spouse, among siblings as well as with friends. Children and young ones in the family learn their true potential, when meaningful roles are assigned – delegated – to them. Their accomplishments under such delegated roles, lead to a genuine growth in their self-esteem and inner confidence. It is an opportunity for the elders to take some weight off their shoulders, while letting the younger ones grow and flourish under their wings. Delegating among friends is a great way to build closer relationships and a genuine social bond.
Too often such delegation might happen by chance rather than by design. In some situations such chance events may appear to become a “burden” in due course. In such cases, the delegation may acquire a bitter feeling of having been “dumped on”. Hence delegation also requires a certain level of reflection, care and caution in delegating. Hence delegating that which is fair and equitable and “taking advantage of” may be the two sides of a coin the delegator will need to be mindful of. Constant vigilance and thus striking the careful balance between such alternatives is a noble goal in itself. The delegation with a true commitment to share our roles and responsibilities in a manner that is seen as genuinely beneficial by the delegate may be an art in itself!
The delegate needs to be mindful of their role. No one can truly supplant the other, even under the best of circumstances. Delegation is a temporary arrangement, but it is more than a crutch. The implied trust in delegation should never be forgotten by the delegate. These are skills taught in the field of diplomacy and public administration. Learning such skills may be as valuable in daily life as they would be in the administrative and business roles.