My recent focus has been on various aspects of leadership, and one of the more important is learning to delegate authority. This is an important function, especially since most librarians are not comfortable delegating. Notice I wrote “authority” not “responsibility.” I’ll explain the distinction later on.
In my January 6, 2012 Leaders!? post, I defined leadership as;
A person, who by force of example, talents, and/or qualities of character plays a directing role, wields commanding influence or has a following in any sphere of activity or thought.
By contrast, to put leader in better perspective, a definition of a manager is;
A person who conducts, directs or supervises activities, especially the executive functions of planning, organizing, coordinating, directing, controlling and supervising of any business type project or activity with responsibility for results.
Warren Bennis & Burt Nanus stated it best – “Managers are people who do things right, and leaders are people who do the right things.” (Leaders: Strategies for Taking Charge, 1997) That is not to say the two roles are mutually exclusive, because they are very much compatible, and each role generally requires some elements of the other, which is why so many people have a hard time distinguishing real leaders from good managers.
Delegation of authority is a leadership multiplier through the division of duties. In this ever more complex environment, no one person can do it all. Within an organization it takes subject matter experts to be knowledgeable about the important things in your community and library, and be able to make connections between what they observe, what the library’s capabilities are, and what the library can do to serve the community in new and important ways. (Multidisciplinary – A New 21st Century Librarianship Skill) In order to actually help accomplish all that your library wants to accomplish for your community, the leader MUST delegate tasks and areas of work to subordinates – AND – share their authority to make decisions and accomplish the assigned goals, objectives and tasks.
Unfortunately, the main personal characteristic that stifles delegation in bosses is the need for control. People who must be in control over everything, will seldom give up authority to subordinates to accomplish those essential tasks that require more time and attention than they have in order to be done effectively and efficiently.
Delegation of authority is also paramount in developing leadership skills in subordinates. Every subordinate must begin to learn management (and leadership) skills by being able to exercise some amount of authority, in order to influence others to also perform.
I mentioned above that authority – but not responsibility – can be delegated. Here’s why. The boss is responsible for everything that his/her organization does or fails to do. PERIOD. No IF’s, AND’s or BUT’s. The boss will be held accountable for his/her organization’s failures, which is why it is so difficult for bosses to delegate. If my performance evaluation is based on the performance of other people, then I’m going to be in control.
Seems reasonable, but it is highly impractical, and certainly not the best approach to creating a high performing organization, in which the boss’s performance evaluation is guaranteed to be high. (The High Performing Library) Bosses also get paid to LEAD their organization, not just maintain them. Regardless of whether you’re in charge of a small group of two subordinates, or a library of 200 staff, leading is more than simply managing and – as I’ve already stated – no one person can do it all without help – help of all kinds at all levels. Delegation of authority is a major means for a library to accomplish everything that it can become.
This is also where training, mentoring, judgment and trust come into application. It’s all part of developing subordinates, treating them with respect and trust and making your library organization all that it can be through inspired, more capable people who share your authority, your vision and your leadership. (Pygmalion in Library Leadership)