How to Delegate to Your Team and Manage Risk at the Same Time

Posted 02.17.2010

Mayoshattuck In a group coaching session with a group of corporate directors yesterday, we were talking about the challenge of delegating actions and decisions to your team while still keeping yourself informed of things that could put either your organization or career at risk. In the course of the conversation, someone brought up a recent interview in the Wall Street Journal with Constellation Energy CEO Mayo Shattuck. Toward the end of 2008, a series of fast moving events almost caused the bankruptcy of Constellation and prompted deals to sell all of part of the company in short order. Here’s what Shattuck said he learned from that period.

WSJ: What did you learn from the crisis?

Mr. Shattuck: It has probably led me to have less trust in the delegation of certain things. If you’re the CEO, you want to have a group of superstars running your businesses. But if you get yourself too far removed or delegate too much, you are vulnerable.

I don’t assume anymore that execution will simply happen because they’re all really smart people—which they are—and wait to see the numbers after the fact. Now I question everything. I leaned too heavily on the notion that leadership was setting the vision and motivating people around it. Now I need to balance that with getting dirty with the details.

While none of the people in the group coaching session are managing a multi-billion dollar enterprise (yet), a lot of them could relate to Shattuck’s reaction to his company’s near death experience. We talked over what a leader can do to balance the need to spread the work and develop future organizational leaders through delegation while maintaining the capacity to know what you need to know and be brought in when you need to be. Here are some of the ideas we came up with on that front:

Start with small steps – Build the level of expertise in your team and increase your trust in their judgment by delegating in small steps at first. 

Create coachable moments – Use those first steps at delegation to set up what the US Army calls “after action reviews.” Debrief decisions to determine what went well, what didn’t go so well and what are the lessons learned for next time. 

Build in check points – Set up processes and systems that enable you to dip into the decision flow on a regular basis and that feed key performance metrics or milestones back to you so you can still influence outcomes if you need to.

Practice perspective transference – As a organizational leader, you have experience and access to information that your team probably doesn’t have. The perspective you develop from that doesn’t do a lot of good unless you share  it with or transfer it your team. If you practice perspective transference, your direct reports will eventually start asking themselves, “If I was (insert your name here), what would I want to know and when would I want to know it?” When your team members are asking themselves that on a regular basis, you’re building the organizational capacity that makes delegation work.

Those were four of our key ideas on how to delegate while managing risk. What’s worked for you that you want to share with your fellow leaders?  What’s the biggest challenge you have with delegation?