“Don’t Do What Others Could Do” – Lessons for Delegation and Authority

“Working harder does not equate to being more productive.” Do you feel that military leaders still have not embraced this fact? Do we try to personally do too much? Do we hold on to projects until deadline, trying to get ever closer to perfection?

Listening to Michael Hyatt’s podcast on “The Fine Art of Delegation,” I again came to the conclusion that effective delegation is a battle that military leaders and staffs fight on a daily basis.

Michael Hyatt gives 5 Imperatives of Delegation in this podcast, but the real gem of the episode is his description of the 5 Levels of Authority. He simplifies the exercise of authority, which then clarifies how leaders should be delegating.

U.S. Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond T. Odierno speaks to company-level leaders to discuss leadership
and answer questions during his visit to Wiesbaden, Germany, April 30, 2013.
Photo Credit: Staff Sgt. Steve Cortez

Michael Hyatt’s 5 Imperatives of Delegation

Imperative #1:  Admit that working non-stop is unsustainable.

How many times have you seen leaders begin a training exercise with a marathon of sleeplessness? (I’ve seen it in every unit and in every training rotation as an observer/controller.) It’s as if the mistaken leaders think that 1) they can sustain that pace, 2) their unit can’t function without them, and 3) their physical and mental talents won’t fade with exhaustion. It’s actually a dangerous way to operate.

Believe it or not, the same rules applies to daily work in garrison. Leaders who commit to, say, working 14-hour days and most weekends, will suffer a prolonged exhaustion that decreases the quality of their performance and causes stress in other areas of life.

Imperative #2:  Understand your unique calling.

“Where do you add unique value?” The military trains its leaders to be capable in many different areas, which means that leaders must be selective about which talents are appropriate for what jobs. You may have been an outstanding operations officer, but if you’re currently the commander, then you need to focus on being the commander. (On my first day on the job, my boss told me, “I’ve already been an operations officer and I’m not doing to do it again. That’s your job and I’ll let you do it.”)

Imperative #3:  Select qualified leaders to assist you.

The military has considerably less expediency in hiring and firing than the civilian world and military leaders rarely get to build a team from the ground up. Therefore, it’s crucial to identify the most impactful talents that each team member can provide, and leverage those talents in specific areas. Know who you can trust with the important projects and empower them with authority.

Imperative #4:  Give these leaders responsibility and authority.

This explanation of authority is the simplest and clearest that I’ve ever read. (Michael Hyatt explains it well in the podcast [at 11:20] and it’s worth a listen.)

We know that military leaders can delegate authority, but always maintain responsibility for the outcome. This model allows a leader to be clear about how much authority he/she delegates, which is commensurate with the level of trust in the subordinate.

  • Level 1: Do exactly what I have asked you to do.
  • Level 2: Research the topic and report back.
  • Level 3: Research the topic, outline the options and make a recommendation.
  • Level 4: Make a decision and then tell me what you did.
  • Level 5: Make whatever decision you think is best.
As I listened to this list, it occurred to me that military leaders typically retain authority for risky events like live-fire training but often fully-delegate routine events like counseling, safety programs, and administrative maintenance. More Soldiers die from off-duty vehicular accidents than live-fire training, and yet few leaders maintain direct oversight on subordinate risk prevention programs and Soldier engagement. Have you seen this to be true?

Imperative #5:  Only do those things which others cannot do.

Finally, the foundational lesson of delegation:  Only do what others cannot. If you are in a leadership position, particularly if you are a commander, you shouldn’t be the one making slides and turning wrenches (although it’s wise to occasionally show that you still can). Your position gives an intentional amount of distance from the minutia so that you can exercise uncluttered decision making and maintain a big-picture perspective.

No one else on the team or staff should decide on how to develop the unit’s leaders…that’s the commander’s job. No one else is granted command authority…so, that should be the commander’s focus. Identify what responsibilities are uniquely yours, then delegate everything else to your team.

Questions for Leaders

  • What else could you accomplish if you were able to delegate 50% of your activity to your subordinates?
  • In what ways would your subordinates grow if they could take over some of your important tasks?
  • Review how you are currently delegating. Can you correlate underperformance with a lack of clarity in delegating authority?

Subscribe to The Military Leader

Complete Archive of Military Leader Posts

Back to Home Page

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.