The Five Levels of Delegation

Delegation is critical to leadership. You can’t take on more responsibility unless you are willing to delegate to others. But that doesn’t mean it is always easy.

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Recently, one of my mentees was planning a special event. Last week, he was surprised to discover that someone on his planning team had completed a project that he didn’t really authorize. He was clearly frustrated, because he felt the other person had taken more initiative that he was given.

After listening to him describe the situation, I finally said, “The fault is not with your team member’s action. The problem is that you didn’t make your expectations clear when you delegated this task.” I then asked him if he had ever heard of the five levels of delegation. He said, “no,” and then I shared them with him.

I have always taken these for granted, but realized this was a brand new thought for my young friend. Perhaps it is for you as well.

As a leader, whenever you delegate a task, you need to make it clear what level of authority you are conferring to others:

  • Level 1: Do exactly what I have asked you to do. Don’t deviate from my instructions. I have already researched the options and determined what I want you to do.
  • Level 2: Research the topic and report back. We will discuss it, and then I will make the decision and tell you what I want you to do.
  • Level 3: Research the topic, outline the options, and make a recommendation. Give me the pros and cons of each option, but tell me what you think we should do. If I agree with your decision, I will authorize you to move forward.
  • Level 4: Make a decision and then tell me what you did. I trust you to do the research, make the best decision you can, and then keep me in the loop. I don’t want to be surprised by someone else.
  • Level 5: Make whatever decision you think is best. No need to report back. I trust you completely. I know you will follow through. You have my full support.

The problem is that my mentee thought he was delegating at Level 2. The person on his team assumed he had given him Level 4. The whole problem could have been avoided by clarifying the expectations on the front end.

Question: As a leader, are you making it clear what level of authority you are conferring when you delegate a task?
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