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Delegate, Delegate, Delegate ... Not in My Big Change

Aug 17, 2007
Believe it or not, delegation consistently turns up on the list of failure factors for the big change maneuvers that we call Red Zones, from reengineering to big system implementations, from mergers to culture changes. (Red Zone is our term for a big change ... a "make it big or break it bad" change)

In this pathology top management delegates Red Zone leadership to unprepared underlings as though it were a hot potato or a grenade with the pin removed. But why delegation at this critical time? What are we thinking to hand over what frequently is the change of the decade" for our company to someone other than the senior guy or gal?

The answer for the widely prevalent practice of handing off Red Zone leadership must lie with miss-estimation. Miss-estimation of the importance of the maneuver or the difficulty of the task ahead surely must explain why any coach would hand the ball to someone in the Red Zone other than the best of his team.

Another explanation for recurrent delegation in the face of big change might be one of the good management practices learned earlier in the executive's career. Managers are encouraged to ration their own time and to delegate to others, to use other's time while providing a developmental experience.

Our experience says that most delegation of big change occurs because top management finds leading a Red Zone maneuver to be very uncomfortable, distressing, tiring, and difficult. Views of man as a labor-conserving organism might explain why some of us run from the responsibility of big change. And we can always use the standing delegation recommendation to get Red Zone duties off our hands.

What kind of delegation is acceptable in a Red Zone maneuver? The answer is simple; we don't need delegation, we want the key leaders of the company to stand up in their roles and be counted! What we need are leaders for big change who are present and accounted for on a daily basis, (1) highly credible, (2) experienced in Big Change and (3) with the authority to get the job done.

It is critical to have leadership in place that is highly respected and believable to the majority of employees in the organization. That necessary level of credibility comes from the following:

*Personal Authority - the individual attributes and competences of the leader that make her liked, admired or at least respected

*Organizational Status - the reputation in the organization as one of the company's competent and respected leaders

*Management Rank - an organizational title of no less than Senior Vice President, able to commit the company to action with a signature or a speech.

Along with organizational credibility, Red Zone leaders need the competence and confidence to take an organization through tough times. There is no substitute for the leadership know-how and experience called for in a particular Red Zone, including:
*'Been There, Done That' Track Record - experience in the Red Zone trenches, doing the kind of business combat that teaches invaluable lessons needed in big change

*Big Picture Approach - a way of looking at problems with the end in mind, with perspective on how all the moving parts of a solution fit together

*Demanding of Details - a way of operating that shows respect for "the devil in the details," an understanding of the need to work out answers and solutions at the minute level to ensure all the needed steps get taken.

Executives who delegate major Red Zone leadership responsibilities to a manager with little experience in the Red Zone put their organizations under the leadership of a "rookie" regardless of her level of motivation or credibility. Rookies have not "been there or done that" and will suffer from a lack of confidence and competence, just what we don't need in the Red Zone!

Executives who delegate major Red Zone leadership responsibilities to a manager with neither organizational credibility nor experience in the Red Zone insert only a "placeholder" in the leadership structure, a placeholder not capable of leading anywhere near or in a Red Zone.

Executives who delegate major Red Zone leadership responsibilities to a manager with low organizational credibility create "impotent" leadership for the organization regardless of the manager's level of experience. None of these three are acceptable...big change calls for Patton in a business suit!!
About the Author
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Dutch Holland is principal and founder of Holland & Davis, specializing in helping clients implement change.
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