In his book Entreleadership, by Dave Ramsey, he uses a rope as a visual to convey the concept of delegation. In the analogy, the rope represents responsibility. When it comes to delegation, he suggests we hand someone the end of the rope and feed it to them until all we have left is the end of the rope.
When it came to delegation in my journey, I went through a season where I took the rope, threw it at my team and walked away, usually without communicating expectations. If I came back, and they had not done what I thought they would do, my team disappointed me. Doing this repeatedly caused me to overcorrect in delegation and it became a catalyst for another season of failed delegation. This new season, from my jadedness, was one where I would give my team members rope, but fail to feed them more responsibility.
I had to learn to delegate, direct and lead a team to our defined success. Once we understood the hazards of leadership and delegation, we decided to get specific when it came to delegating authority. Through an exercise which led to the restructuring of our company, we decided each department would have two leadership roles. The first role was what we called the department ‘authority’, and the second role was the department ‘driver’. The driver was responsible for moving the department, its people, projects and actions forward. Department authorities were responsible for decision-making and ensuring the driver was fulfilling their responsibility.
Each department had these two roles and it could be filled by two different people or the same person could wear both hats. In our company, we determined there were five departments to which we would assign these two roles. One of the departments we identified was Planning, which was responsible for planning projects for our clients. I am good at project planning so it made sense I would be a leader in this department. We agreed to assign me the driver role for the Planning Department. At the same time, we also needed to identify the authority of this department. One of our team members, according to Strengths Finder, was an activator so we believed it would be good to have Beth as an authority on this department. Her ability to activate would help trigger our plans into action.
Now, here was a situation where I, as the CEO, was submitting myself to the authority of another team member. This felt different to us, but our eyes opened from this structure of mutual submission within the business. At the end of our exercise, I ended up being an authority on two of the departments and Beth was the authority of three. I had entrusted 60% of the business under her authority.
This new-found trust and clarity led to us seeing past issues we hadn’t fully realized were happening. As we continued working with companies to become purpose-driven and vision focused, we saw these same problems affecting them.
After much reflection, we came to discover these problems fundamentally fell into two categories: Authority/Abandonment and Override.
We would watch authority figures in other organizations chronically override the driver's decisions if they executed it differently than the way the authority would have done it. Imagine for a moment you are driving your friend’s car. He owns it, but he is letting you drive. He is sitting in the passenger’s seat, and as you are driving down the freeway he grabs the wheel and attempts to take control of the car. In the struggle, the car veers off the road and into a tree. CRASH!
In business, this happens all the time. The owner, or authority, tries to take the wheel back leading to the crash of the car. I call this driver override, and what we found is this leads to timid driving. If every time we take the wheel back from those who are driving for us, they start to question their own decision-making, and they become less willing to take a risk. They begin thinking about what their authority would do instead of what is best for getting us towards our vision.
Why be creative if every time we take a risk, we will be overridden?
Now imagine another scenario, the owner of the car gives the keys to his 10-year-old son. He has not taught him anything about driving, and he tells him to go to the store. If he is able to start the car, this scenario ends up in a crash. Hopefully, their incompetence leads to a minor crash and not a horrific one leading to the death of people.
In organizations, this scenario happens over and over. When authority figures delegate without instruction or direction to those unprepared, they end up faltering. The irony in these situations is we tend to think it’s the other person’s fault, and we fail to see our own neglect in the process.
While there are times when we need to override or abandon, I believe it is best to minimize these situations and to make sure when we do it, we are doing it intentionally. Just because we have the authority to do something doesn’t always mean we should.
In reflection, when we learn to define our roles it teaches us how to submit to each other. When we learn how to submit to each other, we realize how much chaos we create when we were operating without the clarity. With newfound clarity, we can now quickly and easily see how the hazards of delegation affect us all. We found this revelation to be part of the catalyst which helped us change.
So, where are you on this journey? What is your next step in understanding the authority you have and the authority you come under?