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Trust, confidence and delegation

Someone asked me why I insisted on approving certain decisions - didn’t I trust them? It was a good question, to which there are two related answers.

One answer is about degrees of delegation and the trust and confidence I have in your skills, abilities and commitment. I prefer to delegate as much as I can, having regard for people’s skills and abilities, and  believing that it’s better to over-stretch and over-trust than under-stretch and under-trust. Some people can’t do that, but I try to.  I find that people, with coaching and support, usually rise to the challenge; if not, I correct the situation appropriately.

The second answer is about tight and loose control. As a CEO, I only wanted tight control (with consultation and buy-in) in a few key areas that set the context for everyone to operate as freely as possible. Typically these few key areas are:
  • Our business vision and business strategy - development, goal-setting and implementation;
  • Our overarching market offer, our brand, and our high level messages to current and potential clients, staff, investors, partners, suppliers and key influencers;
  • Our organisation’s values, style, and modus operandi.
  • The appointment, promotion (and termination) of key people, which signals the tone for the rest of the organisation.
As a director, my list looks remarkably similar, albeit operating as a team of directors with a focus on the high level principles rather than the details.

Sometimes I tighten up on areas of concern and poor performance - it’s all about trust and confidence. Don’t expect delegated authority if you put up daft ideas or you don’t perform. Why would I delegate to you? If you deliver or you’ve got a good idea, then you’ll get the tick and you can feel empowered - you’re building trust and confidence, and I can loosen up.

I can’t remember where I learnt about the concept of degrees of delegation, and it’s probably got mangled over time, but here’s my version:
  • I decide what to do, I plan how to do it, I do it. You admire the master at work.
  • I decide what to do, I plan how to do it and tell you, you do it and tell me what you’ve done, I decide if that’s ok. I’m the master - you work.
  • We decide what to do, you plan how to do it, we decide if that’s ok, you do it and tell me what you’ve done, we decide if that’s ok. We’re a team.
  • You decide what to do, you plan how to do it, you do it, you decide if it’s ok, you tell me what you think I need to know. I admire you at work.
First published 3 May 2007