Delegation vs. Empowerment: How Leaders Decide Which One to Use

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Written By Kevin

The insights I gained over the years help me lead and motivate teams to achieve business and operational goals. Allow me to share my learnings with you.

TLDR

The key difference between delegation and empowerment is the level of control and autonomy given to the follower. Leaders must consider three factors when deciding which to use. These are, the follower’s knowledge and skills, the amount of control and autonomy required, and the amount of control and autonomy the leader is willing to give. Effective delegation and empowerment require trust, clear communication, and support from the leader. Effective delegation and empowerment ultimately lead to team development, a sense of ownership and accountability, and an environment that inspires engagement and commitment.

As a business leader, you have a responsibility to develop others, leverage your resources, and create an environment that engages people to volunteer their commitment. These are traits of a good leader, and one of the most effective tools you can use to fulfill your responsibilities and allow others to contribute is delegation and empowerment.

Delegation and empowerment are two ends of a continuum that leverage resources, develop others, and allow people to feel as if they are contributing. 

In this article, we will look at the differences between delegation and empowerment, discuss when you should use each one, and examine the four criteria you can use as a leader to determine when you should delegate and when you should empower.

How to Distinguish Delegation and Empowerment

The key difference between delegation and empowerment comes down to one important factor: who is in control, or how much autonomy does the individual have in the job. 

Delegation has tight boundaries and, very often, follows a prescribed course of action. The ultimate delegated task is one where the leader gives specific direction, and the follower carries it out as directed. 

With delegation, you own the responsibility for deciding what, how, and when things are done.

Empowerment, on the other hand, has loose or even no boundaries. The ultimate example of empowerment is the leader presenting a goal to be accomplished or a decision to be made and then allowing the follower to determine and execute the course of action with limited or no further involvement for the leader. 

With empowerment, the follower owns the responsibility for deciding what, how, and when things are done within the agreed-upon boundaries.

Criteria for Delegation and Empowerment

There are three factors you must consider when deciding if you want to delegate or empower:

The follower’s knowledge, skills, and abilities: 

The more extensive an individual’s capacity to make and execute a course of action without your involvement, the more you can move towards the empowerment end of the continuum.

In other words, the level of delegation or empowerment you can provide depends on the follower’s ability to take ownership of the task and perform it successfully with minimal guidance.

If the follower has the necessary knowledge, skills, and abilities, you can delegate tasks and empower them to exercise more control and make decisions independently.

For example, suppose you have a team member who has extensive experience in social media marketing. In that case, you can empower them to develop and implement a social media marketing campaign for your company with minimal supervision. 

They have the skills and knowledge required to create effective content, target the right audience, and measure the campaign’s success. All you need to do is provide guidance on the goals, budget, and overall strategy.

On the other hand, if you have a team member who is relatively new to a particular task or lacks the required skills and knowledge, you may need to provide more direction and control. In such situations, you may delegate tasks but provide detailed instructions, check-ins, and feedback to ensure that the task is completed correctly.

So, knowledge, skills, and abilities are essential factors to consider when deciding on the level of delegation or empowerment to your team members. The more competent and experienced the follower, the more you can empower them to take ownership of the task and exercise more control. 

On the other hand, for less experienced team members, more direction and control may be required to ensure successful completion of the task.

The amount of control and autonomy required to complete the task: 

When it comes to tasks that are very prescribed, there is typically little room for creativity or independent decision-making. These tasks have well-defined processes, specific steps to follow, and are usually time-sensitive.

For example, suppose you’re a project manager and you need to prepare a status report for your stakeholders. In that case, there is likely a specific format, content, and deadline that you need to adhere to. The steps to complete the report may also be clearly defined, such as collecting data, analyzing it, and presenting it in a particular format.

In such situations, you are really delegating the task rather than empowering your team members to exercise control and make decisions. 

The focus is on getting the task done accurately and efficiently, rather than developing your team members’ skills or allowing them to take ownership of the task.

Keep in mind, however, that even in such situations, there may be some opportunities to delegate certain aspects of the task or provide some level of empowerment. 

For example, you could delegate the data collection aspect of the report to a team member, but still provide clear guidance on what data is required and how it should be collected.

In short, the amount of control and autonomy required to complete a task is an important factor to consider when deciding whether to delegate or empower. Tasks that are very prescribed may not provide many opportunities for empowerment, but there may still be some aspects that can be delegated to team members to develop their skills and provide additional support.

The amount of control and autonomy that you are willing to give: 

The amount of control and autonomy that a leader is willing to give is an important factor to consider when deciding whether to delegate or empower. Unfortunately, some leaders have a tendency to micromanage everything and everyone, feeling that they must be involved in every decision and activity.

Leaders who micromanage may feel that their team members don’t have the necessary knowledge, skills, or abilities to complete tasks successfully without their guidance. However, this mindset can be counterproductive, as it can stifle creativity and innovation, demotivate team members, and limit their potential for growth and development.

Moreover, micromanagement can be a drain on a leader’s time and energy, leaving them little time to focus on strategic initiatives and higher-level tasks. It can also create a sense of distrust between the leader and their team members, eroding the team’s morale and productivity.

If you feel you are a leader that tends to micromanage (check out the signs of micromanagement tendencies here) , it’s essential to work on overcoming that tendency. Here are some tips that can help:

Develop trust: Trust is essential for effective delegation and empowerment. Work on building trust with your team members by giving them opportunities to prove themselves and acknowledging their successes.

Provide support: Provide the necessary support and resources, such as training and coaching, to help your team members develop the skills and knowledge they need to carry out their tasks successfully.

Communicate clearly: Communicate clearly and set expectations upfront, including defining the goal or task, establishing boundaries, and agreeing on timelines and quality standards.

Let go of control: Resist the urge to micromanage and allow your team members to take the lead and make decisions. Provide guidance and support when needed, but trust them to carry out the task successfully.

Effective delegation and empowerment require a willingness to give up control and trust your team members to carry out tasks successfully.

Four Criteria for Delegation and Empowerment

Regardless of whether you choose to delegate or empower, four things must be present:

  1. Clear understanding of the goal or task to be completed, including timeframes, budget restrictions, and quality levels.
  1. Clear understanding of the boundaries and authority.
  1. The necessary knowledge and skills to accomplish the goal or task.
  1. Your trust that the individual will perform and potentially fail in pursuit of success at the goal.

Remember, people want to feel as if their work is important. They want to contribute to success, and they don’t want to simply check their head at the door and take up space. 

Your job, as a leader, is to develop others, leverage your resources, accomplish the work, and create an environment that engages people to volunteer their commitment. You can do this by giving people appropriate levels of control and autonomy with delegation and empowerment. 

Delegation and empowerment creates a sense of ownership and responsibility within your team. It allows your team members to take the lead in their assigned tasks and work towards achieving the desired results. This, in turn, leads to increased productivity, better teamwork, and improved morale.

Delegation and empowerment also help in developing your team members’ skills and abilities. As you delegate tasks and empower them to make decisions, they gain valuable experience and knowledge that will benefit them in their career growth.

Moreover, by delegating and empowering your team members, you as a leader can be free to focus on strategic initiatives and higher-level tasks. As you delegate more tasks, you free up your time and energy to focus on more significant issues, such as planning, strategizing, and creating new business opportunities.

To ensure effective delegation and empowerment, it’s important to communicate clearly and set expectations upfront. This includes defining the goal or task, establishing boundaries, and agreeing on timelines and quality standards. You should also provide the necessary resources and support, such as training and coaching, to ensure that your team members have the skills and knowledge needed to carry out the task successfully.

In addition, it’s essential to trust your team members and resist the urge to micromanage. When you delegate tasks and empower your team members, it’s natural to want to oversee their work closely. However, this can be counterproductive, as it can undermine their sense of ownership and autonomy. Instead, provide guidance and support when needed, but allow them to take the lead and make decisions.

Conclusion

Delegation and empowerment are powerful tools that can help leaders leverage their resources, develop their team members, and create an environment that fosters engagement and commitment. By understanding the differences between delegation and empowerment, leaders can determine when to use each one and how to apply them effectively.

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