Posted by: chrismaser | May 9, 2010

CHARACTERISTIC-9: Willingness To Delegate Authority

Delegating authority and responsibility is a vital dynamic of leadership because, when the work is apportioned, more than one person shares the satisfaction of a job well done, a victory well earned. Delegating will challenge the skill of a leader to communicate, listen, plan, make decisions, and solve problems. It teaches a leader to expand their rapport and build productive relationships with both those who are destined to follow and those who are destined to lead. Delegating has at least six basic steps.

1. Choose people who are willing to get the job done and then support them with incentives and motivation.

When searching for people to whom to delegate work, it is wise to remember that a person’s motivation and dependability are more important than their level of skill, which can be learned on the job if necessary.

The way in which you present a task to someone can bolster their willingness not only to participate but also to follow through, especially when they are infused with your vision and enthusiasm for the work ahead. It is important for the person to know how this participation will meet their values and psychological needs. For example, saying: “We want you to join us,” appeals to a person’s need for belonging. “Your unique gift of skills and talents is critical to the completion of the project,” appeals to a person’s self-esteem. “If you are willing, I can help you expand your comfort zone by stretching your abilities into areas you may never have thought you could master,” appeals to a person’s sense of self-mastery.

Self-actualization, as psychologist Abraham Maslow pointed out, is the highest form of human need, although we are often afraid of it.

“We [as human beings] fear our highest possibilities (as well as our lowest ones). We are generally afraid to become that which we can glimpse in our most perfect moments, under the most perfect conditions, under conditions of greatest courage. We enjoy and even thrill to the god-like possibilities we see in ourselves in such peak moments. And yet we simultaneously shiver with weakness, awe, and fear before these same possibilities.”1

When people are self-actualized, they are capable of maximizing their potential, which enhances their self-concept. One’s self-concept, in turn, is based on a sense of their core values. To motivate a person toward the level of self-actualization, it is paramount to appeal to their highest personal values.

Because each person’s values are unique, one must consciously get to know another person by asking them about themself and then actively listening to what they say. A person’s answers will inevitably reveal their values if one but listens.

2. Match a particular person to a particular task.

Matching a person to a specific task is important because people enjoy using their expertise, especially if they feel the cause is worthwhile, but first the leader must get to know the person to ensure a proper match. When possible, a good way to help people expand on their skills is by asking them about their education, training, profession, family, interests, and/or hobbies.

If one is organizing a team or committee, it is critical to match people not only to tasks but also to one another because a team or committee must work as an individual entity in order to be effective and of value to the participants. For instance, some people require little or no supervision, whereas others want nothing less than a recipe. Some people are technicians and like details; others are dreamers and thrive on creativity and global concepts. Some excel in the limelight, while others are more comfortable in the shadows. Some are good with numbers, others with words. It is therefore important for a leader to structure a team or committee in such a way that the diversity of personalities, talents, and skills is in a harmonious, working balance.

3. Define the task and communicate it concisely.

Communicate the purpose of the project clearly to each member of the committee or team and spell out their responsibilities and the project schedule. Specify exactly what the final outcome is to be, and, if necessary, rewrite unclear and/or complicated instructions in the form of an outline or diagram.

Explain how each task dovetails with, supports, or is contingent on the completion of other tasks in order to integrate them into a creative whole. Then either provide the delegates access to relevant reference materials or tell them how to obtain such materials should they need to. Ask questions to ensure they understand what is expected of them. Finally, give every member your phone number(s) and be available throughout the project to answer questions and provide additional guidance or clarification, as well as moral support when things get overwhelming, as they often do.

4. Monitor progress.

It is important for a leader to keep tabs on the progress of all those who are working on a given project because without such monitoring, it is easy to build inadvertent mistakes into the work itself through lack of understanding instructions or simple human error. A leader must always remember to be positive in the way they states things. To wit: “I like the way you have done part A of the task. Do you think it would work to do part B this way? Could that bring it in line with the quality of part A?”

If work is behind schedule or is found to be flawed, it is critical for the leader to remain open and positive. Blame only shuts people down by putting them on the defensive. One must therefore call the team or committee together, discuss the problem, and look for solutions, such as further clarification of instructions, additional reference materials, restructuring work assignments, of getting more people involved. If it turns out that a particular individual is poorly suited to a task, a mentor can be assigned to work with that person or that person could be reassigned to a task more in line with their capabilities.

If a person must resign because of illness or conflicting priorities and/or responsibilities, empathize with the problem, thank the person for the work completed thus far, and allow them to bow out gracefully. There may be another day or another project on which that person might be willing to serve if today they are treated with kindness.

5. Encourage creativity and allow for different styles of working.

A leader must remain focused on the outcome, the final result, not on the detail of how the job gets done. Encouraging creativity not only vitalizes a project with interest but also highlights an observation by Albert Einstein: “In the middle of every difficulty lies opportunity,” which creativity helps one to find.

With respect to styles of working, people feel a sense of ownership of their work when they are allowed to work in their preferred ways. For example, some people work piecemeal and start with any part of a project, whereas others start at the beginning and complete the whole project with continual effort. Some are dramatic and add a flare to their work; others can’t be bothered. It is probable that few people will work as you expect them to, but if you selected them for the quality of their skills and those skills are aptly applied, however creatively, the way in which the work gets done is immaterial as long as it gets done on time, is done well, and the people had a good time doing it and found personal value in the experience.

6. Always reward effort.

A good and sensitive leader always—always—shows appreciation for and recognition of work well done! Such a leader might send a thank-you note as a token of appreciation, hold a party for all those involved, or write a letter of gratitude for inclusion in the person’s personnel file, should that be appropriate.

An emotionally mature leader always shares the credit and lets people know how valuable their work is. If one treats people well, they are more likely to be available the next time their help is needed, which in turn may allow them to give of their talents and skills in such a way that they find the inner satisfaction of continued personal growth in whatever capacity they choose. Helping others to become good followers is one way a leader can begin to encourage them to develop their potential skills of leadership.2

Series on Qualities Of Leadership:

• The Essence Of Leadership: Personal Values And Philosophy Of Life

• Characteristics Of An Effective Leader

• Characteristic-1: Other-Centered And Authentic

• Characteristic-2: An Honorable Person

• Characteristic-3: Balancing The Masculine And Feminine

• Characteristic-4: A Therapeutic Person

• Characteristic-5: Detachment And Equanimity

• Characteristic-6: Being A Good Follower

• Characteristic-7: Servant Leadership

• Characteristic-8: Sharing Leadership

• Characteristic-10: Encourages Leadership In Others


  1. Abraham Maslow. The Farther Reaches of Human Nature. Penguin Books, New York, NY. (1985).
  2. The foregoing discussion is based on: Judith E. Pearson. Dare to Delegate. The Toastmaster 63 (1997):8-11.

Text © by Chris Maser, 2010. All rights reserved.

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This article is excerpted from my 1998 book, Vision and Leadership in Sustainable Development. Lewis Publishers, Boca Raton, FL. 235 pp. It is updated in my 2012 book, Decision Making For A Sustainable Environment: A Systemic Approach. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL. If you want more information about this book, want to purchase it, or want to contact me—visit my website.

If you wish, you can also read an article about what is important to me and/or you can listen to me give a presentation.


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