Delegate or Empower

Delegate or Empower



Good business owners/managers have always recognised the value of being able to delegate work to their teams. After all, it makes no sense for the managers to hog all the work for themselves, does it? That just leads to working 60-70 hours a week, for minimal reward, and all sorts of health and social issues. Managers who recruit the right staff with the right skills; who train their people to operate within certain, recognisable, and distinct measurable parameters, find it easy to share the burden of their work.

So, apart from spreading the workload, why else would bosses want to delegate? The reasons are manifold but the obvious ones are:

  • If done properly, it saves time
  • Teams get more done than individuals
  • The ability to delegate enhances the manager’s reputation and credibility.

These are all centred around the direct benefits to management, but there are also clear benefits to the staff or team:

  • They gain experience of carrying out more complex tasks so they improve and expand their own skillsets
  • It improves their self-esteem, and career prospects
  • Being less constrained can make a job more enjoyable
  • It promotes ambition

Of course, these benefits coalesce to produce an overall benefit to the organisation that exceeds the constituent parts:

  • Better teamwork
  • More efficiency
  • Greater morale
  • Greater loyalty
  • Flexibility, with others able to cover for absent colleagues
  • Improved work-force stability
  • Improved profitability

Over the past few years many business owners have improved their delegation skills, and the more enlightened have put together great teams that perform exceptionally well; and all the interested parties benefit from the success of the organisation: a content workforce, with excellent working conditions, pay, and profits for the owners. We often hear that this is down to “empowerment” – in spite of the fact there is no really clear definition of the word in a business context; and those definitions that do exist do not describe the process that has actually taken place! “Empowerment” in itself simply means “giving somebody the authority or freedom to do something”.

This is not what delegation is! Delegation is giving somebody a specific task or set of tasks (perhaps embodied in a “role”) to perform. It implies that the task(s) must be conducted to comply with certain criteria or standards – there is accountability and responsibility – whereas “empowerment” just means “do what you want to achieve this particular objective”, or even “set your own objectives and do what you feel is right to achieve them”.


Why is the difference important? The answer is that for management to delegate effectively, and teams to operate successfully, the objective must be fully understood, as must the process, the methods and the resources. In my many years as an insolvency practitioner, and subsequently as an executive coach, I have heard the following complaint many times: “We took on a salesman/HR manager/factory manager, but it was a nightmare and didn’t work out, so I sacked him. If you want anything doing properly, do it yourself!” However once I have analysed the reasons a little more dispassionately, by asking questions, it is almost without exception the case that the hiring boss just saw the hiree as someone to get rid of a load of work to (which is not a wholly bad motive), rather than as a vital part of the team, with a defined role, a set of performance targets, training regime, reporting and monitoring criteria, and so on. All that has happened is that the hiree has been “empowered” – often with an expensive car and entertaining budget – to go off and make a mess of things, with no guidance from the person whose burden he is supposed to be sharing or relieving. The experience is terrible for both parties and it fails miserably.


Of course, a relationship of trust must be built up, so that those to whom work is delegated are allowed to get on with their tasks as freely as possible – being micro-managed is infuriating for many people. But this must be done in such a way that the employee feels supported and knows exactly what is required from him; how and when he is supposed to report on his progress and so on, while at the same time allowing management to monitor progress, and identify and deal with any problems at the earliest possible point. As time goes by, the employer will trust his team member more and more, as the latter proves himself and his skill level increases; and the amount of supervision required will reduce as the employer’s confidence in his employee increases. But there must always be accountability – and it is a recipe for disaster simply to assume the employee will know what is required of him – no matter what his training and background – and “empower” him without putting the proper structure in place.


The art of delegation is one of the most important skills a business owner of manager can have; and the greater the level of trust between the manager and his team members, the less supervision they will require; but I would counsel this: empower at your own risk!


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