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Delegating Responsibility

Delegating responsibility

As you probably have discovered, you can't do everything. So how does it get done? Well, delegation is the key to a successful organization. Sharing responsibilities keeps members interested and enthusiastic about the group. You might be reluctant to delegate because you want to make sure the job is done right (your way). But that can make members feel unimportant and become apathetic. Here are a couple of good reasons to delegate:

  1. The group benefits by having

    • members become more involved and committed
    • more projects and activities undertaken
    • a greater chance that projects will be completed
    • increased opportunities for members to develop leadership skills
    • more of a chance to fill leadership roles with qualified, experienced people
  2. The leader benefits by

    • not being spread too thin and, therefore, being less likely to bum out
    • gaining satisfaction seeing members grow and develop
    • acquiring more experience in executive and administrative functions

The time to delegate is when:

  • there is a lot of work
  • a member has particular qualifications for or interest in a task
  • someone can benefit from the responsibility
  • routine matters need attention
  • details take up too much time and have to be divided

An inappropriate time to delegate is when:

  • The task is something you yourself would not want to do (menial work)
  • Someone is under qualified or overqualified for the task
  • The work is your own specified responsibility
  • The area is big or is an unsolved problem
  • Issue or matter dealing with the personal feelings of another or with confidentiality—the "hot potato"

There are many ways to delegate

  • Ask for volunteers by a show of hands or passing a sign-up sheet. (Interest is a great motivator!) However, this method can be impersonal and you could be stuck if no one signs up.
  • Appoint someone. Sometimes a member lacks self-confidence and won't volunteer. Appointing them demonstrates your confidence in them.
  • Assign through a committee. This takes the pressure off an individual and reinforces organization structure.
  • Plead, threaten, intimidate, flatter, guilt-trip. Not generally recommended.
  • "Best fit" of person with the task is the most effective.
  • Try to spread the enjoyable and responsible tasks around. Giving more members status and value.

Once you've delegated, how do you know the work is being done effectively? 

  • First of all, remember that "MWHW' (my way or the highway) is not effective delegation. Accomplishment of the objective is what matters. You must be willing to sacrifice your way of doing it in order to effectively delegate.
  • Secondly, you need to periodically follow-up to ensure that your members are succeeding, to answer any questions, to offer some helpful advice and to discuss and deal with any problems before the task is completed. Be sure that members don't consider your meetings as a lack of confidence in their performance or a way for you to "take over".

What if they fail?

Times do occur when members fail at fulfilling responsibilities. Some possible reasons—

  • They weren't interested in the task in the first place under qualified or overqualified and overloaded with responsibilities
  • Didn't understand the task; responsibility wasn't communicated clearly
  • Other people or circumstances prevented their success o not provided sufficient resources to succeed
  • Did not like the way responsibilities were delegated
  • When a member fails, find out the cause; hold a member accountable only if s/he was responsible. You might prefer not to deal with it at all because the situation is uncomfortable. But, the consequences of not dealing with failures can break down a group.

    • The group—

      • gets the message that it's OK to ???; that fulfilling responsibilities is not that important
      • loses respect for the leader who failed to deal with failure
    • The individual—

      • gets the message that it's OK to fail; that failing is no big deal
      • may develop the habit of failing
      • loses opportunity to learn some important lessons from failure
    • The leader—

      • loses the respect of the group and maybe even the member who failed
      • remember, a failure should be a learning experience
      • one of your most important roles as a leader is to help your members to learn and grow through both their successes and their failures

Adapted from Survival Manual for Student Leaders and Student Organizations, Grand Valley State University.