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Instigate or Delegate

One of the most frequently asked questions about leadership is how much oversight does a leader need to commit to his team members to ensure successful completion of the goals and objectives? As with most difficult questions, the answer is, “it depends!” Too much oversight and the leader gets the reputation of being a micromanager and too little oversight can lead to an unpleasant surprise if team goals aren’t met. A leader should operate in between these two extremes in a spectrum I bound with the terms instigate and delegate. I use the term instigate in a positive light to describe a leader’s active stimulation, encouragement and coaching of a teammate. When I was leading a team and determined an individual needed to be instigated on a certain task, I would stimulate them on the formulation of objectives/goals, encourage them in determining a plan of action and coach them on assessing the completion of milestones. In addition, I would invite the individual to meet for progress meetings for any feedback and discussion on the task accomplishment. In this way, I helped set a framework for the individual to learn the proper way to define a task, determine a plan of action, set a realistic timeline and evaluate the progress in completing the task. Over time, the mastery of these management and leadership skills allowed me to decrease my oversight on future assignments for this individual.

Decreasing oversight and moving to the right on the spectrum, allows a leader to delegate tasks thereby entrusting, assigning and transferring authority to a teammate to complete specific assignments. When I decided the individual and situation warranted delegation, I put the responsibility and authority for the completion of the task solely on the individual. The team member was responsible for formulating the objectives/goals, determining the plan of action and evaluating the accomplishments of milestones and ultimately completion of the task. I always made myself available to the team leader, especially when resources from outside the group were needed and I insisted on receiving a briefing from the team leader on the accomplishment of the task and any feedback or lessons learned for the team to improve on the next time around. One of the toughest skills a leader must develop is being proficient at determining which one of these oversight techniques is needed for each situation and member of the team.

The most important part of this entire equation rests with the leader’s level of effort to know his teammates both personally and professionally. A thorough understanding of the each individual’s experiences, skills, strengths and weaknesses is essential to determining whether instigation or delegation is the proper degree of oversight in each situation. I found that interaction with team members at every opportunity helped me build a portfolio on each individual’s strengths and weaknesses. This was very helpful for me to make informed decisions on what oversight technique to use in each situation. Leaders who don’t put the effort into getting to know each member of their team normally use the same oversight technique for every individual and situation. This results in decreased efficiency, ineffective development of the next generation of leaders and overall lower innovation/ingenuity of the team. I am reminded of a quote by Gen George S. Patton I had to learn in college, “Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their ingenuity.”

So once a leader has put the effort into knowing his team, let me show you a simple matrix I used to determine the proper amount of oversight I provided an individual with a specific task. The ultimate goal is to get all your teammates to the right side of the matrix!


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