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The Delegation of Tasks in Groups

"We played on this very human desire of every man to feel himself and his work important, until one of the most striking things about our army was the way the administrative, labour and non-combatant units acquired a morale which rivalled that of the fighting formations. They felt they shared directly in the triumphs of the Fourteenth Army and that its success and honour were in their hands as much as anybody’s."

Lord Slim, Defeat into Victory

The delegation of tasks to another individual is one of the cornerstones of successful leadership, yet it is often fraught with difficulty. To take a simple example: a group leader asks another member to let everyone else in the group know about a last-minute change in venue for a forthcoming meeting. The person concerned doesn’t do it. Consequently the next meeting is a mess, the leader feels bad, loses trust in the member she delegated and will probably be less inclined to trust other members in general to take on tasks in future.

Delegation of tasks in magical groups can range from informal task-delegation such as that referred to above, to the more formal designation of ‘jobs’ such as incense monitor, or the passing on of the mantle of leadership within a group. If the delegation of tasks is not done effectively, the results can have an adverse effect on the feeling of mutual trust and inclusiveness within the group. Loss of trust amongst members (whatever the source) is difficult to recover from.

Delegation means letting go. For this to be effective requires that an effective context for delegation has to be established within the group. To a great extent, this entails looking at one’s own behaviour as a delegator. There’s a common tendency for group leaders to give someone a task and then complain that it hasn’t been done to their satisfaction. Often, the root of the problem lies in that the leader has not made explicit what exactly needs doing and how he or she expects it to be done.

Delegator Behaviour

Three important principles relate to the behaviour of the delegator:

Belief in People - We can’t expect people to succeed if we do not allow them to see that we (a) believe in them and (b) will be disappointed if they don’t make an effort. It is important to show that we have respect for, and faith in the capacity of our people.

Consistency of Standards - We must be consistent in transmitting and modelling our standards of action. There’s no point in demanding high standards of action from others if we fail to live up to this in our own behaviour.

Clarity of Values - We must be clear in transmitting and modelling what are our values in relation to performance. It is particularly important that our behaviour matches what comes out of our mouths.

When tasks are being delegated, the following points should be borne in mind:

  • Is it clear what level of performance you require?

  • Have you demonstrated in the past that you trust the delegate’s judgement?

  • Does the delegate share your perception of the importance of the task?

  • Does the delegate have the resources necessary to undertake the task?

  • Can you avoid the temptation to continually ‘check up’ on the delegate’s performance of the task?

  • If the task involves informal review meetings between you and the delegate, can you avoid these turning into ‘approval granting’ sessions?

  • Have you made it clear that you are not going jump in at the first sign of trouble and take the task away from the delegate?

This latter point is significant. One of the biggest problems in delegation is the tendency of leaders to give someone a task to do and then continually jump in and ‘grab back the reins’ if it is felt that the delegatee is not performing adequately. It can sometimes take a great deal of self-control to stay ‘out of the way’ and allow a delegatee to make what you feel are mistakes, but to continually intervene in a situation means that you are not allowing the other person to make their own judgements and develop their own coping strategies. My own tendency to do this was made very clear when I was involved in a magical training group. The aim of the group was that whilst I would set it up and manage it’s first year of operation, that eventually I would ‘pass on’ the leadership of the group to another member and leave them to get on with it. When it came time to do this, another person volunteered to become group leader (in terms of organising meetings, setting goals for the group, etc.) and I remained in the group in an advisory capacity. However, I very much displayed the tendency to ‘leap in’ when I felt the new leader wasn’t making the running in the way I felt he should be - until he told me in no uncertain terms how he felt about this - and I consequently left the group and left the new leader to get on in the way he saw fit to. Which wasn’t how I felt the group should be run - but after all, that wasn’t the issue here. The aim of changing the leader of the group was to allow members to develop their own leadership skills and styles. In effect, I was guilty of the "my way is the right way" attitude and was somewhat shocked to discover that I was displaying this behaviour.

Understanding the dynamics underlying task delegation is important as it allows us to circumvent the tendency to ‘blame’ delegatees or to get into the position of feeling that, as leaders, we have to do everything in order to have them done ‘correctly’. This perception on the part of group leaders is equally detrimental to a group’s effectiveness as it can contribute to the leader taking an ‘authoritarian’ stance within the group or encourage passivity on the part of group members (in effect leaving the leader or dominant members of the group to ‘do’ everything) - which can lead to those who identify as ‘doers’ in the group becoming dissatisfied and frustrated - perceiving other members who seem unable or unwilling to take on active tasks within the group as somehow less able.