Competence: delegate effectively

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FLIGHT LEADER A. An Air Force F-15 pilot once told me about a preflight briefing between a cocky, seasoned flight leader and a young, new wingman. The flight leader began by asking, “Why are you here?” The rookie wingman responded a bit nervously, “Well, I’ve always loved aircraft and the idea of serving my country…” when interrupted by the leader, “No, no, no, the reason you are here is because my jet only has one radar and can only carry eight missiles!”

The message was “The reason I have to put up with you is because I can’t do it all by myself.”

FLIGHT LEADER B. Contrast that with another flight leader who views his wingman as a tactical partner who brings added expertise, creativity, and another perspective to the mission. He delegates responsibility and authority to his wingman in order to achieve a higher level of performance and adaptability.

Which wingman feels more trusted?

Which wingman will give more commitment, loyalty, and engagement?

Flight Leader A views delegation as a price he’s not willing to pay.

Flight Leader B views delegation as an investment that offers compound interest.

Effective delegation is not efficient. It requires time, attention, energy, and patience.  And a willingness to accept that the project, mission, or task will be accomplished differently than you would have done it alone.

Delegation = Trust 

To delegate effectively, the leader must do the following:

  • clearly communicate expectations, priorities, and the desired outcome (in the Navy we call it “Commander’s Intent”)
  • identify restrictions or limitations (“Rules of Engagement”)
  • provide proper training and adequate resources
  • be available for questions and provide clarification
  • be generous with encouragement and praise, but don’t shy away from constructive criticism genuinely delivered with the intent of helping the wingman grow and succeed.

Some leaders are not willing to let go and trust their teammates. They hide behind a common rationalization for micro-managers, such as “I can’t help it; I have really high standards.” Sometimes they don’t let go because they are insecure; by hoarding information and responsibilities they feel their position is protected.

Micro-managers prefer the illusion of control. Unfortunately, they are preventing the team from fulfilling its potential.

Be a High-Trust Leader: take the time and do the hard work to invest in your team so you can delegate authority and responsibility and watch your team soar to new heights.

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