woman looking at her laptop screen biting down on a pencil appearing stressed or panicked

“As the social media director in the marketing department my boss delegated to me the task of increasing our social media engagement. I drafted a communications plan, she signed off on it and have been at it for two months. So far, we are ahead of the metrics set, engagement is up 75%, we have increased followership by several thousand, and we are getting the desired responses from the demographics we are targeting. 

In my last several meetings the Director of Marketing is giving me specific content to use, which does not resonate with our younger targets. I have pushed back, showed our results and how this is not in accordance with our communications plan. She is not getting the message. Now I have to use her content and I am receiving a lot more direction. I find myself frustrated and spending a lot of effort figuring out how to manage her and the content she wants.”

Ugh, ever have this happen to you? The boss delegates a task and after you have it up and running begins providing all kinds of direction? Maybe a better question is, have you ever done this? Delegated a task and later provided all kinds of direction?

In our previous discussion on delegation we used a simple model to assess how we delegate, which is shown below. In short delegation consists of two elements, ends and means. When you delegate you generally will give direction with a mix of the two. Ends, what you want the task to look like when it is done. Means, specifying how you want someone to do the task.

Based on this situation let’s graph the delegation results. Not that the scale is changed on the below graphs to reflect a delegation on a specific task rather than your general tendency. At the start of the project it fell heavily on the ends in the top right quadrant.

Once the boss starts providing more specific direction what happens to that dot? It definitely moves down. More “means” are being specified. I also contend that the dot moves left. Why? Because the ends are not as clearly defined as they were at the outset.

This task moved from a good growth opportunity to missed opportunities and maybe even into micromanagement. Micromanagement, a term no leader wants to hear in the same sentence as their name.

Let’s dig deeper. What were the effects on the employee? Frustration and irritation clearly came out. Also, this individual is now spending time attempting to manage the boss, a definite waste of time and energy. Would it have been better at the outset for the boss to have given more direction (means) on how she wanted this project executed? Probably.

In my opinion, supported by anecdotal data, when a boss delegates, steps away, and later provides significant direction and involvement – they damage their credibility. Moving your dot from the top right quadrant, down or down and to the left is not good.

You would be better served by starting with significant direction (means) and as time progresses and the subordinate proves themselves, providing less and less direction. Move up and to the right.

All subordinates want their leader to have a high level of trust and confidence in them. Delegation is one of greatest tools we as leaders have to build it. Use it thoughtfully. Not every subordinate in every task belongs in the top right quadrant. Give deliberate consideration on what you are attempting to accomplish with the task and the subordinate, then allocate the ends and means appropriately.