Explain the principle of delegation of authority, including why it is often inadequately performed.

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Stephen Holliday eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In many situations in a corporate environment, a manager is often given too many tasks to complete in a timely manner, so the manager takes a number of those tasks, for which he or she has primary responsibility, and gives them to his or her best subordinates to complete.  That's the first step in delegating authority. In the best circumstances, the manager makes it clear to the group he or she manages that the person to whom the task is delegated is acting on behalf of the manager--that is, on a functional basis, there is no difference between the manager and the delegated authority.  More important, the manager must make it very clear that a failure to carry out the instructions of the delegatee (the person who has been delegated to carry out the task) carries the same penalty as a failure to carry out the direct instructions of the manager.  Unfortunately, in most situations, the manager, out of consideration for the feelings of the group members, does not articulate this.

The second step in the process often leads to failure: in most delegated authority situations, the people who must carry out the instructions of the delegatee are at the same level as the delegatee, so everyone--the person whose has delegated authority and the people he or she will ask to carry out the task--are colleagues, sometimes friends, which means that they do not have a reporting relationship--that is, they all report to the manager and see themselves as equal to the delegatee even though the delegatee is nominally acting on behalf of the group's manager.

The greatest element of failure resides in the group's dynamics.  Because the delagatee must carry out a task without real authority, some members of the group may subtly sabotage the delegatee's efforts, hoping that their failure to support the efforts of the delegatee will be overlooked by the manager because the manager will be focused primarily on the failure of the person to whom the task was delegated, not on his or her "support" staff.

In sum, then, delegated authority works if everyone involved in the chain of command understands that a task completed is a success for the group, but in all-too-many cases in the corporate world, group members see their success or failure not as members of a group but as individuals who sink or swim by their own efforts.