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Delegating while managing risk

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers,Leadership Skills,People Management

In a recent group coaching session, 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 or part of the company in short order. Here’s what Shattuck said he learned from that period.

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 is managing a multibillion-dollar enterprise (yet), a lot of them could relate to Shattuck’s reaction to his company’s near-death experience.

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 U.S. Army calls “after action reviews.” Debrief decisions to determine what went well, what didn’t go so well and the lessons learned for next time.

Build in checkpoints. 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 needed.

Practice perspective transference. As an 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 to your team. If you practice perspective transference, your direct reports will eventually start asking themselves, “If I were (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.

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