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Does your boss 'fake' delegation?

Confident leaders delegate. Under confident micromanagers don’t. But, there is another more surreptitious type of boss…one who PRETENDS to delegate.

The perpetrators of this particular crime are either under confident (their issue), don’t trust their team (also their issue), or have a psychological defect requiring them to ensure their power is felt by everyone at all times (definitely their issue).

Four common ways to spot a pretender, ranking from least to most annoying (from their team’s perspective):

  1. They require high frequency updates on task progress

  2. They sit in the background monitoring the task

  3. They say they’re giving the task to you, but regularly intervene

  4. They direct you through the entire job.

In 2005/6, I was fortunate to be tasked with the development of Australia’s next fighter/strike crews while they waiting for operational conversions onto much faster and deadlier jets. Years before when I was in their position, I remember how much I learned when I was just left alone to solve a tactical problem myself, and so as their leader, I used the following guidelines:

  1. I’d give the tactical problem to the junior pilots and let them solve it. Broad overview, a general intent, then sit back and watch the creativeness happen.

  2. I’d make sure the formation lead was flying solo. If we needed to have a staff member in the formation for supervision, they would fly in a wingman’s jet, not with lead. This greatly freed up the lead, allowing him to operate at his best without second guessing what the a**hole in the back wanted him to do.

From my perspective, this worked! My junior aircrew were a very talented bunch who turned into confident tactical leaders. Most importantly for me, they seemed to have fun and learn whilst I worked with them.

On an airline flight deck, it is quite normal for the Captain to offer the most junior pilot the opportunity to set up the Flight Management System during preparation for departure (one of the many jobs happening while passengers are boarding the jet!).

When I was the ‘new guy’, I remember what it was like to be offered this job, and then have the Captain watch over my shoulder while I programmed the computers. I found I would constantly second guess the way he/she would want me to do something, and never felt really comfortable to just get on and do the job.

So, now when I delegate this task to a junior guy, I’ll try to leave the flight deck for the duration and do another task. Even just standing back in the forward galley is enough to give the junior guy or girl the mental freedom to do the task unfettered.

Delegation is a powerful leadership tool. It offers the following benefits:

  1. Unloads the ‘boss’, so he or she can continually step further back from the chaos and monitor the ‘big picture’

  2. Empowers and motivates the employee now responsible for the task

  3. Strengthens the organisation by increasing technical proficiency and building leaders.

As stated in an earlier blog…”Don’t hesitate to delegate”, but make sure you aren’t a faker!

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