You can’t delegate leadership

Professional & Managerial Tips & Tricks

Recently I was chatting with a friend who had just attended a presentation about leadership. She was quite impressed with one of the key catch lines: “You can’t delegate leadership.” My friend went on to tell me more about the presentation, but I found myself continuing to think about this particular idea. It really resonated with me, and made me reflect on my own leadership experience,  gained through the last ten years of holding people management roles. Thinking back on my career, I realised I’ve learned a few lessons about being a good leader, some of which were clear to me in the beginning, while others have come through hard graft and that wisdom you only gain through experience. And so I decided to put pen to paper (or more accurately, fingers to keyboard) and share these in the hope that they might help others in their own leadership journey.

Culture is KING!

I’m sure my team get sick of hearing it, but I truly believe that culture is king. Being part of a group or a team, regardless of whether you’re on the sports field, or in business; it’s the culture that helps you succeed. There is a ton of data to support the theory that when the culture of your team or organisation is a positive place where everyone is respected, trusted, challenged, listened to, can express themselves openly without judgment and feel like they are a valued part of the group or business, then overall engagement is improved. A highly engaged work force is a powerful thing!

Early on in my career, I thought that culture was driven entirely from me as a manager – I was wrong. Culture, and the expectations around what behaviour is tolerated in your business are ultimately set by you as a manager and you have to ensure that everyone participates. However, it’s your entire team that contributes to how the culture of your organisation actually works and develops. If you don’t know this yet, there’s a high chance that there’s a sub culture in your team or business and you’re not a part of it. If this is an issue for you, it’s time to listen to your people, to develop genuine relationships based on trust and honesty and be accepting of other people’s ideas. When your people feel empowered, they will inevitably feel more engaged, and will ultimately help you to grow and improve your company culture.

Celebrate your people’s SUCCESS!

This seems so basic right? Yet I’m astounded at the number of managers that don’t celebrate their people’s success. It seems almost as if some people are threatened by high performers, and see them as exactly that – a threat, rather than an asset. Perhaps these managers are fearful that a high performer may eventually replace them, and so they don’t promote their achievements. I take a different view; I expect my high achievers to eventually replace me so I dedicate a lot of my time as a manager to trying to make myself redundant. I focus on building capacity in each of my people to enable them to operate as high performers. My aim is to help them effectively extract what they need from me in order to perform well in their role, and hopefully need me less, as they develop more. Once I’m no longer needed, I’ll know it’s time for me to move on to my next challenge.

Coming back to celebrating success, most people love being praised or recognised for their efforts. I’m definitely no psychologist, but I can remember from a very young age how good it felt to be told that I had done something well, and the feeling I got when I knew I had worked hard at something and mum or dad noticed, and commended me for it. Drop the ego, and celebrate every last piece of success or high performance with your team, at every opportunity you get.

Communicate, and be HONEST!

Can you imagine trying to build a house without any of the plans? Or even a Lego model without the instruction sheet? Perhaps you’re missing a few crucial pieces? It gets tricky when you don’t have all the information right? Chances are you probably aren’t going to build that house to the expectations of the customer, and chances are you won’t complete that Lego model the way it looks on the box. The same principal can be applied to managing your team or business. If your team only have half the information, or you are the type of manager who likes to hold onto information because it makes you feel important, you are directly impacting your team’s ability to perform their day to day tasks to a high standard. Instead, COMMUNICATE! Obviously there will be commercially sensitive information that you just can’t share, but outside of that, you should tell your team absolutely everything they need to know to help them perform well in their roles. We all know the power of setting goals and having strategies in place to help us achieve them. If your goals can only be achieved through the combined work of your team, then you must communicate the expected outcomes you are trying to reach, and take your team on the journey. A team who clearly understand what it is they are trying to achieve, and have all the information they need to perform at a high standard, are much more likely to be highly engaged and will ultimately help and support you to achieve the goals you have set for yourself. Knowledge is power!

Embrace FAILURE!

As a young leader, I never wanted to fail. I’m naturally competitive and I had built a reputation around success, so of course I wanted to win at everything! Through hard work and by surrounding myself with great people I was fortunate enough to find myself on the right side of the ledger (most of the time) when measuring my win/loss record. I carried on for a while thinking this was a great position to be in until I recently experienced perhaps one of the most challenging years in my career to date. This would go on to change my opinion on failure entirely. These days I think it’s vitally important to embrace failure. In fact, you need to seek failure as this is where all of the key learning opportunities are! As I found out, even the most carefully laid plans can and will go astray, and a lot of the time it will be due to factors outside of your control.

When met with failure, don’t beat yourself up or at least don’t beat yourself up for too long. Embrace your failures, face them, figure out the areas that you had control over, what you might have done differently to influence a better outcome and learn from your mistakes. Knowing what went wrong and what not to do next time will make you a stronger leader. You’ll have an accomplished skill set, and the genuine ability to operate from a position of experience the next time around.

Shut up and LISTEN!

There’s not much more to elaborate on here. Talk less and listen more. You’ll be surprised at the outcome.

Sit down, be HUMBLE!

It’s certainly not exclusively the newer managers that make this mistake, but how often have you seen a new manager let their new-found authority go to their head? This is usually followed by further attempts to exert said authority, which ultimately results in losing the buy-in and respect of their team before they’ve earned it. This is not a place you want to be in as a manager or leader. In my experience, the best leaders are highly emotionally intelligent. Confident, coupled with a strong blend of humility. They are self-aware with a good understanding of their own skill set, but an equally good understanding of their areas of development. They have the ability to talk and understand people at all levels and can relate to everyone in their team individually. As a leader there is often the misconception that you need to know everything. You don’t. Don’t get me wrong, you should be able to use the resources at your disposal to help solve problems or resolve issues quickly, but there actually isn’t an expectation that you are a walking talking encyclopaedia with all the answers. No one likes a know it all anyway! Good leaders build a strong team of people with a wide variety of skills that they don’t necessarily have themselves. This in turn creates a diverse group capable of completing any task by working together as a collective. Good leaders treat their team with respect, and realise that their role as a leader is a privilege and comes with certain responsibilities that they have to uphold.

You can’t delegate leadership, but you can and should DELEGATE!

You can’t delegate leadership. It’s your responsibility as a manager or leader to have a full understanding of your overall vision and strategy, and you should be the key person delivering that message to your team. By delegating that responsibility you risk diluting the message. Leadership is a skill that needs to be developed through experience and mentoring. I do believe that some people possess more natural leadership qualities than others but I also believe that everyone, in the right situation and with the right support and guidance is capable of being a leader. That being said, leadership roles are earned and can’t be issued to someone merely due to tenure or perceived seniority in a group. If they haven’t developed their leadership capability they will struggle to gain the support and buy in from their team and can often be disruptive to the vision and strategy of the group.  A successful leader or manager also knows that you can’t control everything. The actions and strategies that deliver the overall vision are crucial to delegate to your team. You need to trust and rely on the support of your team, and you should build capability in your people so they are able to handle delegated tasks that you need them to deliver on.


In summary, here are the key things I’ve learned about successful leadership: as a leader you should be looking to create a strong team culture, where you celebrate your people’s success. Communicate openly and honestly. Set expectations clearly and provide as much information as possible. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge and embrace your failures. Listen to your people – actually listen. Be confident but humble and remember, you can’t delegate leadership, but you can delegate!