Delegation skills for leaders – Army Ranger Style

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Delegation is the process of entrusting a task or a part of a task to others.
Know what cannot be delegated – make sure you properly assess the task and the level of competency, confidentiality, and commitment required to complete the given task SUCCESSFULLY. Do not put yourself or any of your Team in a position where they cannot succeed. Remember: Failure can be successful if learning occurs.

Granting Authority: you can delegate authority, however you cannot delegate responsibility. When you delegate a task, it is important to remember this: in the eyes of YOUR Manager, ultimately you are still responsible for the successful completion of all tasks delegated to you, INCLUDING the tasks that you delegate to others.
Creates an Obligation: delegation creates an obligation for both of you-to each other. This mutual obligation, granting authority and entrusting a task are like a three-legged stool. Each depends on the others to support the whole. No one can stand alone.

Deterrents to Delegation

1. Why don’t I delegate better ?
“I can do it better myself.” -Yes, AND you can’t do it ALL better yourself. For most of us, there is too much to do and too little time to do it. Take the time to develop others. Someday they may be sitting in your seat.

“I can’t trust others to do it as well.” -Trust is reciprocal. You get what you give. As a leader you may have to take the first step towards building trust with your team. Delegating a task to someone shows that you trust them to handle the responsibility and you believe in their abilities.

“I am reluctant to take the risk they’ll fail.” -Taking risk is a part of a leader’s job. If you’re not taking risks and making mistakes you’re probably not leading much. Remember, leaders operate where things are being done for the first time, where there is no road map. You’re bound to take a wrong turn. We all make mistakes – recover and move on.

“I don’t have time to involve others.” -Then make time. It may cost you time upfront, however, the long term investment ensures a solid foundation of informed, trained, and competent team members/associates.

“I feel my team members resent when I follow up on their work.” -Following up is done out of RESPECT for them and their work. Because you RESPECT and APPRECIATE your team members and the contributions they make, it is your job as a leader to confirm how much value they add. Additionally, follow up will help you and your team members decide where the learning opportunities are simply by conducting brief After Action Review (AAR) or “lessons learned.”
“I can’t bring myself to delegate ‘busy work’.” – Busy work is a part of any organization and any job function. If they are going to be standing in your shoes eventually, let’s make sure they understand up front just how they fit and what comes with the fancy laces.
“I can’t delegate to my friends.” – It’s hard to separate work from fun, family from friends, and team members from friends. Oh, well. That’s just part of being a leader. Get used to it. There is no easy way out for a leader. Keep the communication open and treat others with dignity and respect. FRIENDS will understand.

“Everyone is already busy.” – THAT’S AN EXCUSE! So are you! Try to identify areas where consolidation may be appropriate. We’re all busy all the time. It’s like the weather: Accept it or move.

2. Why team members resist delegation ?

They don’t know how to do the task. -Based on the priorities you set and the “NLT” (No Later Than) completion time of the task you or your Customers establish, make time to train others how to complete tasks essential to your organization’s success. The more value they add, the more valuable they are to you, the team, and the organization. Remember, people make the difference, they are you only true, long-term competitive advantage.

They have a fear of failure, of criticism of mistakes. – Coach them through the learning curve. Reassure them that mistakes are learning opportunities and that criticism (feedback) is a gift when presented properly.

They lack confidence in their abilities. – I can’t think of a better way to build their confidence than to delegate to them and give them the opportunity to succeed and add value. Enough said.
They don’t understand what is expected. – Remember we all have different “input” channels and “sorting” styles. Remember, everyone interprets things differently. To some a BOW adorns a package, to others it is a part of a ship. Be Clear. Don’t make assumptions. Ask them to paraphrase until you’re certain the expectations are mutually understood.

They don’t have time. – Neither do you! You don’t have time to waste getting team members up the learning curve either. Task organization and time management are essential to mission success. Delegation provides a learning opportunity for everyone. Problems will always exist and can be found everywhere. At any time anyone on your team may need to assume the leadership role and complete the task. Delegation helps prepare others so no time is lost when roles must change quickly.

They don’t like doing it. – SO! We all must do things we don’t like to do. It’s a part of life, get used to it.

They feel inadequate. – WHY ? This sounds like an opportunity to practice good listening skills. Sit down with them and find out “why”, then develop a plan to coach them through their insecurities.
They already feel overworked. – I know, so do I, empathize don’t sympathize.

They’ve done it before. – Great! Then maybe they can do it better again, OR, maybe they can teach someone else how they do it and hone their ‘delegation’ skills.

They find it easier to ask than to decide. – At some point they need to learn how to make decisions. Easy isn’t a good enough reason to resist. A path with no obstacles would probably lead nowhere and is well traveled. Each of us has a personal responsibility to learn and grow as much as we can. To choose not to do something because it is difficult or challenging is simple laziness and you are depriving yourself of a learning opportunity.

They don’t possess the proper attitude. – WHY ? As a leader you need to go find out. It’s your job. Don’t keep stragglers on the team. Be sure you are doing everything possible to redirect their attitude through feedback and coaching. If you have confidently expended all means then you must trust that they are in control of their own behavior. You may correct the attitude through communication and you may not and you may have to cut your losses at some point and move on. It’s a part of being a leader.

How can I Delegate Better ?

Trust the abilities of your team members. -By working with your team, practicing the Four Factors of Leadership, and through experience your ability to assess others will improve. Listen to your gut. Often it is the only choice you have.
Respect your team members as people. – That’s right. PEOPLE not machines. They have feelings, emotions, and problems; Beliefs, Values, and Norms just like you. Don’t forget that.
Keep an “Open Mind!” – The ability to remain “open” about others’ ideas and contributions is essential for leadership. It is extremely hard to do as we tend to view the world through our eyes and our experiences. Remember leadership exists in the unknown. Keep an open mind and keep learning.
Understand that mistakes will be made. – Cool! First time mistakes are learning opportunities. Be sure to debrief with subordinates when mistakes occur. A mistake the second time is your learning opportunity: You didn’t prepare / train them enough after the first mistake occurred.


Effective delegation saves time AND initially requires time: YOUR TIME! It’s a long term investment for you, your team, your Customers, and your organization.

Delegation is not a shortcut to avoiding responsibility. You can delegate authority but you can’t delegate responsibility. Delegation saves time through task organization/distribution and by teaming up problem solvers with the appropriate skills to solve them efficiently.
Don’t waste valuable time. You can never regain lost time. NEVER!
Set the right “Climate.” The right climate is one that promotes successful behaviors and stimulates growth. Be approachable and be sure to approach your team members with the intent of helping them be successful. If you help others succeed, in turn, you too will be successful.

Follow the basic steps of delegating.

  • Assess the task.
  • Consider the Four Factors of Leadership: The Led, The Leader, The Situation, Communications.
  • Consider the confidentiality, competency, and commitment required of the individual or team.
  • Provide leadership essentials: Purpose, Direction, and Motivation.
  • Clearly state the Task, Conditions (resources), and Standards (outcomes).
  • Be accessible for help.
  • Follow up and give feedback: Reinforce what you want more of and redirect what you want less of.
  • If you do the whole thing yourself, you are ensuring that the next time you will have no choice but to do it again since no one else learned how.
  • Select a Task for Delegation and use this Outline:
  • Identify the task and asses it. Evaluate the skills required.
  • Consider the Four Factors of Leadership. How do they apply to this task ?
  • Consider the competence and commitment of team members. – select a person or persons to complete the task.

Identify and provide:

  • Purpose – Why are we doing it ?
  • Direction – Where to begin; orientation of tasks.
  • Motivation – Fuel for the fire.
  • Identify and clearly state:
  • Task – What is to be completed or accomplished.
  • Conditions-resources available for this task.
  • Standards-Minimum results expected.
  • Be accessible for help. Inquire about progress. Spot-check along the way.

Follow up:

  • Was the task completed successfully according to criteria ?
  • If no, identify reasons why-conduct AAR.
  • How can you turn failure into a successful learning experience for both of you ?
  • What feedback will you provide from this process ?
  • Reinforce ?
  • Redirection ?

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