Mastering Delegation of Authority

Learning how to delegate authority is a challenge all leaders share. Do you do it well? This is a common question. Delegation can be a delicate and scary moment for managers who are not comfortable with that dynamic. The scope for delegation changes as you move up the organization. Leadership that wins influence must know how to delegate. How do you describe effective delegation?


The best answer is summed up as follows.

[shareable cite=”Anonymous”]Delegation is a delicate balance between permission and protection.[/shareable]

If you Google that phrase, you get a long list of references to parenting. Odd how that fits management and leadership, right? But let’s break it down.


As the leader, giving permission for others to do things is key. Anyone who has ever had to operate in a place where the ground rules were unclear knows the sense of frustration that brings. Never having permission to move is unproductive.

Feeling like you have one or both hands tied behind your back is futile. It’s a set-up to fail.

When a team is given permission to a free run with something, then they can use all of their energy to get things done. The leader must routinely give that permission.

Permission never has to be a blank check. You can give permission for specific duties. You can operate within a set of boundaries.

In air traffic control, there are plenty of boundaries that must be observed. Yet when a pilot is given clearance to take off or land, the runway is theirs. All other aircraft are supposed to steer clear. The pilot with permission is free to use his/her skills at piloting the aircraft for a smooth landing or takeoff.


Having permission is great, but there will be people on your team who don’t trust that authority because they are certain if they screw it up, there will be consequences. When this happens, the team stays paralyzed; never moving forward.

A worker who knows they will be protected by the boos can take advantage of the full range of freedom to perform their assigned tasks. A leader must provide protection measured in the same dose as the permission. They go hand in hand for maximum results.

Protection without permission is just empty.


There is actually an interesting outcome here. In most instances, good workers who feel empowered by both permission and protection actually follow the rules better. Their work tends to be more to the point and accurate. Plus the level of employee engagement increases.

Momentum grows. One experience with both attributes in play gives way to the next experience, and so on and so on.

Leaders who can consistently apply the principle of proper delegation will see success rates improve. Team performance will be enhanced. More importantly, the key element, trust, will increase.


Executives trying delegation for the first time may feel very uncertain about it. They think “I can do it better myself”. While that may be true (but seldom really is), you have to be able to delegate to properly manage your team for long term sustainability.

Once you begin delegating, you cannot flip-flop between giving permission and protection one day, then pull it away the next.

If there is ever a need to adjust something, you have to be able to express what is going on. You can say to the team or the individual “look, ________ has changed for the moment. I know I was  giving you full permission and protection to do it the old way. We’re going to need to shift gears for a little while until ______ changes again. Are we good with that?”

By being open about the change, you can make it clear you still respect and appreciate what your team has been doing with your other delegation.

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