The Delegation Dilemma of Leadership - Praxis
The Delegation Dilemma of Leadership

The Delegation Dilemma of Leadership

Effective delegation requires a nuanced understanding of trust dynamics between individuals and organizational processes – emphasizing the need for leaders to carefully assess the level of trust in both people and processes


To delegate or not to delegate? When to delegate, when to control?How much to delegate and how much authority to hold back?

These are the questions that have bothered leadership and management since the ages. The success of leaders like Steve Jobs, the former CEO of Apple, is cited by those who admire his micro-management style that gave the company some of its iconic products and innovation. Concurrently, the current CEO, Tim Cook’s delegatory management has witnessed the company becoming the most valuable on earth, rivalling energy giant Saudi Aramco.

In a recent article on “How to Delegate More Effectively: Four Approaches”,authorsBeth K. Humberd and Scott F. Lathamdelve into a comprehensive framework that emphasises the significance of trust not only in individuals but also in organisational processes when delegating tasks and decision-making.

Understanding Delegation Dynamics

The authors highlight the importance of balancing trust in both people and processes to ensure successful delegation. They stress that even if a leader trusts an individual’s skills, delegation can falter if the underlying organisational process is unreliable or underdeveloped. This underscores the need for leaders to carefully assess the level of trust in both people and processes before deciding on the appropriate delegation approach.

Four Approaches to Delegation

  1. Engage: This approach is suitable when there is emerging trust in both people and processes. Leaders closely assist while delegating, fostering collaboration and understanding to build trust.
  2. Educate: Appropriate when there is established trust in processes but emerging trust in people. Leaders guide employees through tasks, helping them learn established processes and gain confidence.
  3. Engineer: Applied when there is established trust in people but emerging trust in processes. Leaders focus on adapting and improving processes to support trusted employees effectively.
  4. Empower: Ideal for situations with established trust in both people and processes. Leaders empower individuals to make decisions independently, fostering accountability and collective reflection.

Effective delegation requires a nuanced understanding of trust dynamics between individuals and organisational processes. By aligning delegation approaches with the level of trust in both people and processes, leaders can enhance decision-making, promote accountability, and drive organisational success through effective delegation practices.

The Counterarguments

Counterarguments to this approach to delegation can stem from various perspectives that challenge the effectiveness or practicality of the proposed framework. Here are some potential counterarguments:

  1. Overemphasis on Trust: Critics may argue that the framework places excessive emphasis on trust in both individuals and processes, potentially overlooking other crucial factors that influence successful delegation, such as competence, experience, and alignment with organisational goals. They might contend that trust alone is not a sufficient criterion for effective delegation.
  2. Complexity and Flexibility: Some critics may find the four approaches – Engage, Educate, Engineer, and Empower – overlycomplex and rigid. They might argue that such a structured framework could limit leaders’ flexibility in adapting to dynamic situations or unique organisational contexts where a more fluid approach to delegation might be necessary.
  3. Risk of Micromanagement: Opponents could raise concerns about the Engage approach leading to micromanagement tendencies, especially in scenarios where leaders struggle to strike a balance between involvement and autonomy. They might argue that this level of engagement could hinder employee growth and innovation by stifling creativity and initiative.
  4. Accountability Challenges: Critics may question the practicality of the Empower approach in real-world settings, highlighting potential challenges in ensuring accountability when delegating decision-making without close supervision. They might argue that empowerment without clear mechanisms for accountability could lead to errors or lack of oversight.
  5. Process-Centric Bias: Some detractors might argue that the framework’s focus on trust in processes could overshadow the importance of nurturing trust in individuals within an organisation. They may contend that an overreliance on process-centric delegation approaches could neglect the human element and interpersonal dynamics crucial for effective leadership.
  6. One-Size-Fits-All Approach: Critics could argue that the framework’s categorisation of delegation approaches based on trust levels oversimplifies a complex leadership practice. They might suggest that a one-size-fits-all model may not adequately address the nuanced challenges and varying dynamics present in different organisational contexts.

While the article provides a structured and thoughtful framework for delegation decisions, these counterarguments highlight potential areas of debate and alternative perspectives that leaders and scholars may consider when evaluating the applicability and limitations of such an approach in practice.


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