5 Levels of High Impact Delegation


Are You Using the 5 Levels of Delegation to Develop Those Around You?

Delegation 101: Delegating “what to do,” makes you responsible. Delegating “what to accomplish,” allows others to become responsible. ~ Mack Story

Many leaders do not understand that true delegation is a tool that can be used to grow their team and strengthen their relationships. During my many years of Lean Manufacturing consulting, I led many cross-functional teams with varying process improvement goals. I would typically have one week to get results with a group of strangers. How hard could that be right?

Over the years, I learned to be very effective at using the 5 Levels of Delegation. Not the old “do this and do that” kind of delegation that most people think of when they hear the word delegation. That isn’t leadership of people, but rather management of people. It’s low level delegation and doesn’t promote growth, responsibility, or ownership.

High level delegation empowers individuals and teams to thrive and grow. I often teach the principles I learned while leading highly effective teams to my leadership clients. I first heard Dr. Stephen R. Covey speak on The 5 Levels of Stewardship Delegation many years ago. As I have applied and taught them, I have also enhanced my understanding of them which has allowed me to add to and enhance how I define and teach them.

As you consider this lesson, you must understand that these principles apply not only personally, with your children, family, or friends, but also professionally with those you work with whether they report directly to you or not. High level delegation is about growth and development not authority.

Never delegate methods, only results. ~ Dr. Stephen R. Covey.

The 5 Levels of High Impact Delegation

1. Wait until told – No growth. No respect. No responsibility. A low-level leader simply tells the person or team what to do. The leader may not even be aware that they have finished the task. Either way, when they’re finished, they wait.

They keep waiting until they are told what to do next. This is absolutely the lowest level of delegation and, unfortunately, the most common. It’s quick and efficient. It’s also very effective, short termLow-level leaders love it. It’s also very ineffective and an absolute waste of time, long termHigh-level leaders avoid it.

Many people delegate at this level continuously with their associates at work and their children at home while wondering why they can’t get them to think for themselves. How will they ever learn to think for themselves when they never have to? At this level, the leader does all of the thinking and is responsible for the effectiveness and the outcome.

NOTE: A low-level leader values control and leads from a position of authority. A high-level leader values release and leads sets aside their position (if they have one) and leads with influence.

2. Ask what’s next – No growth. No respect. And, only a very small amount of responsibility. The low-level leader tells the person or team to ask them what to do once they have completed the delegated task.

What small responsibility do they have? When they have finished, they must find the leader and simply ask what to do next. That’s it! No growth and development at this level either. However, the leader will see a slight increase in productivity because he/she is able to keep the person or team busy without as much waiting.

However, the leader still does all of the thinking and is responsible for determining what they should and will do next. But, at least the leader knows when they’ve completed their last assigned task. Then, they can assign them another task.

NOTE: Only low-level leaders (managers that like to direct people) delegate at levels 1 and 2. High level leaders (leaders that like to develop people) know the value of delegating and delegate at level 3 or above consistently.

Anyone can see people as they are. It takes a leader to see what they can become, encourage them to grow in that direction, and believe that they will do it. ~ John Maxwell

3. Recommend a course of action – Growth happens. Respect is mutual. Responsibility is shared. Everything changes at this level. Thinking is now a shared responsibility. The high-level leader values the person or team’s experience and their opinion.

The responsibility for determining and suggesting the next task has been transferred to the person or team that will carry out the task. They are now required to think before approaching the leader with a recommendation.

When they do, the leader can now evaluate their thought process. If the leader disagrees, he/she does not revert back to Level 1. Instead, the leader facilitates additional thought and decision making by asking thought provoking questions to help the person or team think more deeply while considering the cause and effect of their recommendation. This allows both parties to learn and understand the situation better.

Often, the leader will learn and agree with the recommendation. Other times, the leader will not agree and ask more questions until mutual agreement is reached on a course. But, the responsibility always remains with the person or team that is being delegated to.

The leader is now in a support role growing and developing the person or team. As the leader learns to trust their thinking and decision making, he is able to move them to higher levels of delegation. If he doesn’t yet trust them, he can continue asking questions that will help shape and refine their thought process and understanding of the bigger picture.

NOTE: The high-level leader will never take back responsibility for very important or critical project work because this will create an atmosphere of distrust resulting in low morale. If the task is critical or very important, the leader will move back to Level 3 from either 4 or 5 because they need to be informed or want to assist in the thought process by asking questions. Under no circumstance will a high level leader take ownership of and complete the task. This would be very disrespectful and reduce the leader’s influence. Often, low-level leaders will complete highly important or high visible tasks because they want the credit for themselves.

4. Do it and report immediately – Additional, but limited, responsibility is transferred. The high-level leader has more trust and confidence in the person or team and allows them to feel the responsibility of choosing and then completing the next task without support.

At this level, the person or team has limited authority to make their decision and take action. Then, they notify the leader of what has been done before taking the next additional action.

Because the action is complete before the leader is informed, the person or team now feels a greater responsibility because their thoughts are determining the outcome (on a small scale). They are starting to fully own the process one small step at a time.

Note: The leader can choose to be flexible and give boundaries or limits. It doesn’t have to literally be every single step. It could easily be groups of steps at natural intervals of completion relative to a single process or project.

5. Own it and report routinely – Full responsibility has been transferred. At this level, the person or team reports to the high-level leader at a predetermined intervals (end of project(s), days, weeks, or even months, or only when the person or team feels that it is necessary). The leader trusts the person or team completely.

The beauty of trust is that it erases worry and frees you to get on with other matters. Trust means confidence. ~ Stephen M. R. Covey

Key Points

When delegating, it’s always best to start at level 3. This allows the leader to learn how the person, team, or child thinks. Level 3 allows the leader to engage them in the thought process. As they build trust over time, the leader can then move them up to the higher levels of delegation. As the leader moves others into the higher levels of delegation, the leader will gain more discretionary time to accomplish other tasks.

Depending on the task, the leader may select to move someone from level 5 back to level 4 or 3. They should only do this in order to either participate in the thought process or to be informed of the progress related to a special or new project. Moving someone to a lower level of delegation is always intentional and usually temporary.

With trust, everything is possible. Without trust, everything is questioned.

With trust, things happen fast. Without trust, things happen slowly, if at all.

With trust, relationships grow. Without trust, relationship wither.

With trust, we always know. Without trust, we never know.

Note: I encourage you to share my blog posts with your team if you find value in them. I believe in abundance and write my blogs to help others become more effective and successful.

Make it happen!