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Dear leader, share the burden

Successful leaders aren’t soloists. All great leaders I know are good team players. For, no leader can
do the job of leading alone and yet steer his organisation onto the shores of growth and wealth.

I admit that you may manage to bring a positive shaping to your organisation and even notch up some fickle
strings of success though you hold and practise a monopolistic view of leadership. But it’s certain you can’t
birth a flourishing world-class organisation if you don’t share the burden of leading. If you seldom or never
send the boys to help fix some problems, your leadership will suffer serious limitations, your energy will be
overheated and your organisation’s synergy may rupture.

Successful leadership is a joint venture. Ask Microsoft’s Bill Gates (who retired last summer) Jack Welch (living
leadership legend and former CEO of General Electric), Michael Hagan of Nutri System whose company sits
prettily atop Fortune 500 listings, America’s best big-company manager, and Hewlett-Packard’s CEO, Mark
Hurd. Ask David Yonggi Cho, leader of the world’s largest Christian movement, and, if I should put modesty
aside, myself – leader of Africa’s single largest Christian organisation.

All will confess they lean on others to lift the limit of their creativity and lessen the stress and strain of
leadership. Yes, they are in control, calling the shots, strategising and charting the direction their organisations
should go. But, had they been in the trenches alone, they would have missed the finesse, flourish, fitness,
foresight and fortitude that characterise their leadership.

The very concept of an organisation presupposes teamwork, network and burden-sharing. So, those who hope
to lead well must know how to keep and pass the baton. They mustn’t plough alone or they will come under
stress and burn out too soon. One way of sharing the burden of leadership is by passing some tasks to
subordinates. This act is referred to as delegation.

Delegation: Meaning and gains


Delegation means assigning a fraction of your leadership duties to your subordinates. You delegate not
because you can’t do the jobs but because your busy schedule can’t accommodate them. Your brain is full and
you need to borrow other people’s brains to keep going at full throttle. Woodrow Wilson, American’s 28th
president. Said: “I not only use all the brain I have, but all I can borrow.” Leading America during World War I,
Wilson needed more than his own brain to bolster up his leadership skills. And he got enough of them from
among his people. Effective leaders don’t only know how to use all the brain they have, but are also good at
using all the brains they can borrow at critical times.

Now, delegation isn’t dumping or abdication. Effective delegation entails supervision and indirect (quality)
control. You don’t assign Charley to do the job, and then go to bed and count it done. You must keep the tab on
him, keep your communication line open so he might be able to ask questions, clarify puzzles and receive your
encouragement and motivation.

You have to do this because the job is yours and you’re responsible for the outcome. Charley is only helping
out! Checking up on the staff handling an assignment creates in them a sense of accountability: The worker
knows that successful completion of the job depends on him because the leader keeps reminding him,
“Charley, you’re in charge of this and I’m relying on you for its completion.”

Leaders who are skilled at delegating reap great dividends from this leadership method of “load shedding”. The
most obvious of the advantages is the increase in the leader’s effectiveness and efficiency. It’s a plain fact that
you can’t do it all; yet success requires that you leave no stone unturned. By delegating, you meet this
stringent requirement for success.
Second, delegation results in motivation and mentoring. By giving your job to your subordinate to do, you not
only build in them a higher sense of belonging, but also motivate them to meet the challenges of the job
without fail. A subordinate sees a delegated job as a special assignment different from the daily routine of
corporate functions. This special-task feeling is a motivational elixir more potent than a pay raise. A worker
would engage all his talents and stake all pains to do a job that his leader would have done!

Third, – and this is interesting – delegation prolongs your leadership’s lifespan. By shedding your workload,
you save your energy and time for core functions and duck stress to stay fresh. Delegation seems a long-life
elixir that leaders who want to stay long in the saddle must keep handy.

Fourth, it serves as a means of developing your staff. Workers are encouraged to seek more knowledge and
expand the frontier of their creativity when they take charge of unusual leadership roles. The result of this self-
education is staff development which should be at the top of your vision for your workers.

In spite of its advantages, however, you may still loathe delegation if you fear: (a) the job may not be done to
your satisfaction; (b) it may take a longer time than you will have used to do it yourself; (c) it may demystify
your leadership as you suppose people believe you know and can do all things; (d) it may empower your
subordinates who, being armed with new skills, may leave for greener pastures. Probably! But leaders who
practise delegation can testify it works for them; and unless you try you may never know!

Delegation: Manner and goofs


The advantages of delegation make it an attractive tool in strategic leadership. However, effective leaders
employ delegation with care. Those who slapdash assign any job to any staff at any time anyhow are courting
trouble for their leadership. Effective delegation follows a process which I now outline.

* Study the nature of the job. This is the first step and the one any leader may mishandle. My own leadership
thrives on delegation; so I’m careful with step one. With over 20,000 middle and top level workers spread
across 60 nations where we maintain operational bases, mine is a workforce of people with diverse skills,
talents, and different levels of exposure and experience. So, I delegate thoughtfully. Whenever my hands are
full and yet there’s a work to do, I look at the job and determine its place in and impact on my organisation’s big
picture. If it’s central to our core values and can play the independent variable in my leadership equation, I do it
myself. Otherwise, I assign someone else to it. Specifically, you shouldn’t delegate such tasks that bother on
policy, visioning, hiring and firing, merger and acquisition, senior staff promotion, and other core issues. Those
are principal duties of the leader; they aren’t jobs for the boys!

* Select the right delegate. Doing this, also, requires your knowing the ability, talent, skills, attitude and
motivation of each member of your staff. You must be familiar with your staff’s personal work profile; otherwise
you will engage the turtle in a sprint. You must have in mind a checklist of your staff’s skills, talents, schedule
and attitude. When you want to give out an assignment, run through the checklist of each likely candidate and
determine who among them can serve your purpose.

* State your objective. Tell the delegate what you’re aiming at, what you wish to achieve by doing the job. Here,
you must specify the scope, standard, quality and the deadline for completion … If you fail to do all this, your
delegate may fail to deliver according to your purpose and expectation; and you are to blame.

Now watch it: Don’t “box in” the worker with a reel of hard-and-fast rules of doing the job. Doing that will stifle
initiative and block learning. Remember, you haven’t chosen a green horn for the assignment. So, besides
general technical briefing and provision of resource materials, let the staff off to put his skills into creative use.

* Support the delegate with the needed authority. When you ask a staff to do something on your behalf, you
must give him or her the authority to do that thing. For example, if Charley is to hold fort as a line supervisor,
he should be given the authority to decide and direct the course of production and control the staff in his line.

* Salute the worker if he had done the job well. If the job comes short of your specification and expectation,
praise the staff for his efforts, point out the flaws, and tell him to go and re-do it. This aspect of delegation was
a remarkable feature of Abraham Lincoln’s leadership during the American civil war. Lincoln gave his generals
the credit for any victory in battles, but accepted the blame for defeats. Urging his army to attack the rebel
force of Robert E. Lee, the president wrote: “If General Meade can now attack him on a field no worse than
equal for us, and will do so with all the skill and courage which he, his officers and men possess, the honour
will be his if he succeeds, and the blame may be mine if he fails.”

By the way he commended his generals, Lincoln infused them with courage and inspiration to dare, to be
creative and painstaking. His biographer, Donald T. Phillips, observed that: “If leaders do enough of this – if
they praise good work and encourage more of the same – then eventually they will be able to relax and let
their subordinates do most of the work. And all the leader will have to do is guide them in the proper direction”.
I hope you agree.