I came across an example recently of a person dictating and directing when they believed they were delegating. This tends to be something I see quite frequently in my day-to-day project work. For delegation to occur, I believe that there needs to be three crucial characteristics. These characteristics are:
1) Direction and Leadership
Delegation is more than just getting someone to do a task you don’t have time for. Delegating is also delegating the responsibility for the direction and leadership of the outcomes from that activity. I frequently see people delegating a task, but only if the task is done as it has been envisioned by the delegator. Frequently I see investigation or documentation being ‘delegated’ to another person and then having the outcome reviewed/approved by the delegator. True delegation also has the direction and leadership responsibilities also delegated.
One of the most difficult things to do is to accept the outcome from a delegated activity that you do not agree with. But this is critical to the act of delegation. This is how we are able to create solutions by teams and not just individuals. If there is subsequent approval of the output of delegated activities, we probably have not really delegated the activity.
2) Delegation by end-state
True delegation is delegation by end-state. The delegation is specified according to the objective that is to be realized. There is no or little specification as to the process to achieve that end-state. That will be determined by the person that the activity has been delegated to. If a delegated activity spells out the order of the tasks to be done and what the tasks are, I have some bad news for you…
The key litmus test for me on whether an activity has been truly delegated to me is whether I have been given authority to delegate it to another person. (or multiple people!) If the activity has truly been delegated to me, they are delegating the responsibility for the completion of the activity and just not delegating the execution of the activity to me. If you ever want to test if someone has truly delegated an activity to you, mention that it now has been delegated to another person. Their reaction will be very telling.
At the end of the day, delegation is about having trust and giving control. People who are uncomfortable with delegating have not yet developed that level of trust with the person. (or they prefer to maintain control) This is not a bad thing. Depending on the circumstance, it may not be wise to delegate high-risk activities. But to become a high-performing team, delegation must eventually happen. A team or company cannot scale if all control is in the hands of one person.