Julian Hutton on delegation as high art

Julian K. Hutton, president, Merlin Hospitality Management

Julian K. Hutton, president, Merlin Hospitality Management

The degree to which authority is delegated is a sure sign of the overall efficiency of any organization. A clear and efficient system of delegation is essential to ensure that all tasks under a leader’s responsibility can be achieved, and that the leader has the time and capacity to direct, mentor and monitor their subordinates. Only by doing so will the aim be achieved in the most timely and efficient manner.

Delegation is an area in which many managers perform poorly. Some fail to put in place the right people and processes to make delegation work and claim it is quicker and easier to do the job themselves. Others want to control everything, either because they believe they are the only ones that can do it properly, or because they think it makes them indispensible and so guarantees job security. The result is unmotivated employees and an inefficient organization. Managers who cannot delegate properly simply shouldn’t be managers.

Delegation empowers subordinates. It encourages them to feel a sense of ownership and responsibility for their job. This, in turn, enhances their individual motivation and contributes to the cohesive relationship between the leader and the led. Delegation demonstrates trust in a subordinate and so encourages reciprocal trust in a leader. An organization that empowers its employees is an organization that the brightest and the best will want to work for — it attracts new talent and retains the old. Retaining key staff and promoting from within have a very real effect on a company’s productivity and its bottom line.

So to whom should you delegate?

Immediate subordinates. Never skip a management level. If you bypass the authority of a more junior manager, you undermine their authority. Few things are more guaranteed to damage their confidence in themselves and their trust in you. It means the people who need to know don’t know what is going on and who is doing what. Chaos and resentment are the result. If someone has specific expertise that you need, always delegate through the chain of command.

Those who need the experience or need to be tested. Delegation is a crucial part of preparing subordinates for the additional responsibilities that come with promotion and developing their careers. However the tasks delegated must be within the reasonably expected capabilities of that position, it is completely unfair to delegate a responsibility that you know, or should know, is beyond a subordinate’s capability.

Those with spare capacity — in terms of time and capacity to handle the additional responsibility. Otherwise you invite failure, for which ultimate responsibility remains with you.

Delegate as widely as possible within the competencies of your staff and avoid delegating only to those you think are the most able. By delegating to only a few of those you feel are the most competent, you risk a dangerous imbalance in their workload. They may come to resent the extra burden they have to carry and the remainder will soon doubt your trust in them.

Delegation of authority is not abdication of responsibility. Whatever a leader delegates to their subordinates, the leader still takes ultimate responsibility for the actions of the people who work for them and for the results of their team. Those managers who habitually work long hours in a constant state of crisis while their teams are underemployed are not making themselves indispensible; they are merely inefficient managers and poor leaders. By getting involved in every aspect of the minutia they are incapable of performing their most important task, which is to ensure the selection and maintenance of the aim. Failure to properly delegate is a failure to lead.

Julian K. Hutton is president of Merlin Hospitality Management, where he oversees the company’s hotel management and distressed asset management operations, drawing on 20 years of experience in the worldwide travel and hospitality industry. Reach him at [email protected].