• Steps in delegating
  • Delegation styles
  • Barriers to delegation

A leader's job before, during and after a trip is demanding and complex. There are many times when it can become very stressful and seem to be overwhelming, or when some parts of it require more than their normal share of attention. There are other times when a leader should consider developing the skills and confidence of various party members and there are those times when a leader wants or needs to concentrate on one aspect of the total leadership task, such as looking after the needs of the group. It is at these times when you as a leader will wish that you as a leader will wish that you could be multiplied or that some of your own skills were better than they are. There is a way in which you can be more than one person and have the best skills at your disposal. This is the technique of delegation, where other people act as you and for you. It is one of the fundamental tools of leadership. However, it is vital to remember that even though you may delegate tasks, the final responsibility for the trip and for the party members always remains with you as the leader.

Steps in delegating

Delegation is made up of the following steps:

  • establish the talents and skill levels of the group
  • determine and plan the required task
  • choose the right person for the job
  • share the objective, communicate the task, define/negotiate the extent of the delegate’s authority and responsibility
  • follow up the task, encourage and help where appropriate
  • check your delegate’s performance (but don’t bother them unless it is really necessary!).

If the circumstances require and allow it, review the performance with the delegate, debrief and publicly recognise the performance. (Remember, your performance as a delegator and leader is up for review too!) If necessary, follow up with instruction if there is time and opportunity.

Delegation, if it is done properly, requires all of the skills of a leader to be effective— good people skills, good communication skills and good technical skills. It is not sufficient just to tell a person to do something. Proper delegation is a contract of trust between people to do something for the group.

Delegation styles

The types of delegation must fit the people, their skills and levels of mutual confidence, the circumstances in which the group finds itself and the difficulty and importance of the task to be done. It is possible to identify at least four broad styles of delegation that are available to every leader:

  • Here is the situation, deal with it and tell me what you did (e.g. passing control of a first-aid emergency to someone with better qualifications and experience).
  • Here is the situation, tell me what you are going to do and do it unless I tell you otherwise (e.g. giving a party member a navigation task).
  • Here is the situation, tell me what you think is involved in dealing with it and I’ll decide what I want you to do (e.g. sending a party member to find a suitable route).
  • Here is the situation, and I shall tell you what to do.

Each of these delegation styles is appropriate to one of the situational leadership styles. Applying specific detail to these styles may be a useful springboard into the correct situational leadership style.

Barriers to delegation

One of the major requirements for delegation to be effective is trust. This trust extends from the leader to the person to whom the task is delegated, from that person to the leader and the leader’s internal perceptions and understandings. Where this trust is incomplete, barriers to delegation will arise. Five typical barriers are described in Table 52.1. Four of these are forms of reluctance by leaders to delegate, and the fifth is a reluctance to accept delegation. Fortunately there is at least one way to break through each of them:

Table 52.1 Typical barriers and ways to break through them
Fear of loss of control. (This is probably the most common barrier)• Make sure that you believe that getting the job done is worth more to you than having total control. (It usually is!)
• Review the basis of your leadership. If your leadership skills are OK and this is still a problem, make sure you have a clearly defined set of criteria for checking performance and to ensure that at specific times or events, your delegate will check back with you.
The person to whom you delegate might make mistakes• This is something with which you will have to live! Everybody makes mistakes, even you.
• Be prepared to let the person make their mistakes, anticipate the mistakes, be prepared to help when it becomes clear that the person is having difficulty recovering.
You believe that you can do the job better yourselfPerhaps you can, perhaps not. Ask yourself: ‘Can the person do the job adequately in the circumstances?’ If so, your apparent superiority is not an issue.
The person to whom you delegate might do too good a job and show you up• Nobody is perfect at everything - not even you. There will be jobs that other people can do better than you and circumstances where that level of skill is necessary. Then it becomes your duty as a leader to make sure that the best person does the job.
• Your ego and your party will be safe if the person to whom you delegate does do a good job.
• One of your tasks as a leader is to make sure that good leadership continues and that skills are passed around the people with whom you walk or ski.
• If you delegate to a competent person who does a superior job, it reflects well on your maturity as a leader that you encouraged it to happen.
Fear of failure• All that any leader can do is to encourage a person to take up the challenge of carrying out the task, support (not dominate or direct) that person and ensure that the task given is not overwhelming.
• Give permission for them to make mistakes and help them to learn constructively from these.

In summary

Delegation can be used when:

  • parts of the leadership task require more than their normal share of attention
  • you could consider developing the skills and confidence of various party members
  • you want to concentrate on one aspect of the total leadership task.

Considerations when delegating:

  • it requires the use of a wide range of leadership and technical skills to be effective
  • it is a contract of trust
  • it can take several forms based on the levels of importance of the task, trust and competence
  • it can be subject to a number of barriers to effective delegation which can be overcome if we can recognise and choose to deal with them.