What is the biggest difference in the capabilities needed to be an executive instead of a middle manager? One of the most telling differences in capabilities is how someone delegates. Managers delegate tasks; Leaders delegate responsibilities.
Of course, it is not as simple as switching from telling folks to get certain tasks done to directing them to take ownership of whole projects or efforts. Delegating responsibilities well requires you to use these emotionally intelligent behaviors (be GOOD):
- Get to know who you are delegating to, their capabilities, and what motivators they value right now. An abundance of research evidence shows that authoritative influence is the least effective and most relationship damaging way to tell someone what to do. Persuasive power is much more influential, effective, and relationship building. Persuasive influence depends on knowing what services others can and will exchange with you to value your priorities.
- Organize and explicitly communicate your learning objectives and performance expectations. Expectations that are defined as SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound) work best, but even more important is setting up both a learning and performance expectation so that you can professionally develop others (a key duty in most executive job descriptions). Psychological research reveals that learners frequently learn what they are told to expect they will learn. Also, performers more frequently exceed expectations when they know exactly what behaviors constitute meeting your expectations and what behaviors would help them exceed your expectations. One other hint: if you need to articulate what constitutes ineffective performance, then you are delegating responsibility to the wrong person–that person isn’t capable right now.
- Orient followers to the resources that are available and explain what constitutes fair play. Delegates cannot start owning a responsibility until they are aware of where to get the necessary information, materials, labor, facilities, and allies. If you do not have the time to show delegates where the resources are, then you must plan for and allow them the time necessary to discover these things before they take ownership. One of the most common methods for doing this is to have a delegate shadow you or another subject matter expert for a designated period. It is also important to articulate what legal, professional, and ethical codes apply to this responsibility. It is impossible for delegates to intentionally play fair if they are unaware of the rules, and most legal and ethical infractions will reflect directly on the delegating leader’s executive credibility (i.e. yours).
- Declare a state of emergency procedure. What should the delegates do if they encounter a problem they don’t know how to address? How long do you want them to struggle with it on their own before bringing it to your attention? When do you require them to ask for help? How? From who first? Research shows that defining a basic emergency procedure minimizes errors, saves time and money, and increases delegates’ self-efficacy and satisfaction with your leadership.
Require delegates to publicly own the responsibility and the credit. Take a tip from social psychology, nothing guarantees personal commitment to an idea or endeavor as much as announcing to others that you’re supporting that idea or endeavor. Have delegates make that meeting announcement or send out that email with your introduction and support. Likewise, when delegates achieve success it is important not just to publicly praise them, but also to have them publicly accept praise and congratulations for their work. Otherwise, no one will take ownership for the next responsibility you delegate.