To be an authentic leader an executive must master the art of delegating – both responsibility and authority, and accepting that accountability always resides with the executive. People are motivated by the work itself (Herzberg) – to plan, organize and do the work and to be evaluated and recognized for doing it. So give them the chance to succeed: delegate.

To empower people, to be an effective leader, the leader must be able to demonstrate that he has faith in his people, that he trusts them to carry out their responsibilities well. Delegating tasks freely and fully to followers is a key method for demonstrating trust. To delegate effectively is to empower employees. The failure to delegate well very often leads to eroded bonds between manager and employee. Central to empowering people is effective delegating.

Delegating involves three things: responsibility, authority and accountability.

An effective leader ensures that he or she is very clear about the nature of the assignment the employee is to carry out. (He or she of course must be mindful of the capability of the employee, that they are sufficiently knowledgeable, skilled and experienced to carry out the task fully. Situational leadership requires that the responsibility assignment is appropriate to the ability of the employee.) To delegate responsibility means defining the work, the performance standards and the completion dates as accurately as he or she can. If these expectations are not clear the employee has a much lower chance of succeeding.

In addition to clearly defining responsibility for the assignment, the manager must also delegate sufficient authority for the employee to carry out the task. People today want to take responsibility but they know that responsibility without authority is no responsibility at all. To delegate authority means that the supervisor trusts the employee to act prudently, to utilize resources effectively to compete the project. Authority includes not just the capacity to make spending and other contractual commitments, but that the authority is sufficient to be able to act expeditiously, without having to check with the boss. Authority also includes freedom from unnecessary reporting; frequent reporting means you’ve placed unreasonable limits on the employee’s authority, and it’s interpreted as lack of trust. Last, delegated authority means other employees know that the designated employee has been given the responsibility and has the authority. If there is doubt, and other employees are allowed to ‘check with the boss’, the delegated employee does not have real authority.

So far, so good. The last element of delegating effectively is the hardest to manage: accountability. Effective delegating includes the shared knowledge that the employee is personally committed to complete the task. It is a psychological contract between the boss and the employee, and both know it. But in fact the senior manager can never delegate accountability. When the project goes well the employee gets the credit. But when the project goes wrong, the boss gets the ‘blame’. As the boss you may have delegated the responsibility and the authority to carry out an assignment, but your manager will hold you accountable if it goes off the rails.

Because of this accountability problem, many managers are reluctant to truly delegate responsibility. We live in an age of risk avoidance and blame, and as a consequence, we seek to minimize adverse consequences for us. That means a manager has to summon up a lot of trust to truly assign responsibility and sufficient authority to their subordinate. Instead the nervous manager over-supervises, insists on signing off on most dollar or project commitments, and expects frequent reporting. Worse, the poor manager doesn’t accept their own accountability and tries to deflect the blame onto the employee. The employee ‘gets it‘ and quickly realizes he has been disenfranchised. In time, a very short time, the employee is no longer inspired by his manager/leader and soon disengages.

This is authentic leadership: having the confidence in your people that you can fully delegate to them – responsibility, and authority – for completing projects on their own.

The ‘authentic’ leader then celebrates with his employee when s/he succeeds, and carries the can when s/he drops the ball. S/he never deflects the blame or makes excuses. He accepts his/her accountability. Employees who know this about their boss will feel empowered and engaged. S/he will follow him/her anywhere.

Are you delegating appropriately? Are you an ‘authentic’ leader?