What is a Delegating Leadership Style?

A delegating leadership style is a low task and relationship behavior approach to leadership where a leader empowers an individual to exercise autonomy. Employing this approach entails providing the individual with the big picture, then trusting them to deliver agreed-upon results.

A delegating leadership style is most effective with a person that is both confident and competent to perform. Even a moderate level of input from the leader here (e.g. offering suggestions) can be off-putting and, as such, interpreted as a lack of trust. This might result in regression of both their task-related ability and motivation.

What a delegating leadership style looks like:

The leader:

  • Turns over control
  • Provides the “big picture”
  • Allows the individual to make task-related decisions
  • Monitors activities
  • Reinforces results
  • Remains accessible

Key Indicators of when to use a delegating leadership style:

The individual:

  • Consistently performs this task at a high standard
  • Can operate autonomously
  • Is committed to and enjoys performing the task
  • Keeps key stakeholders informed of task progress
  • Shares both good and bad news
  • Is aware of their task-related competency and skill

Situational Leadership® and a delegating leadership style:

Situational Leadership® refers to delegation as S4 (or Style 4). At The Center for Leadership Studies, we believe that a leader needs to adapt their approach based on the current performance of the person they are trying to influence. Situational Leaders are routinely shifting between one of the four styles with each person they influence on a task-by-task basis.

Based on the above indicators for the individual, we would identify them as R4 (or Readiness Level 4). This means the individual is able and confident and willing to complete the task at a sustained and acceptable level. Once a Situational Leader has assessed an individual to be R4 for a specific task, the leader should take a step back to allow the individual to complete the task while remaining accessible in case a question arises (providing S4 leadership).

An example of using S4 or a delegating leadership style correctly:

A manager allows a tenured and high-performing employee to identify and execute a plan for the upcoming company picnic (a high-visibility event which this employee has successfully organized previously).

An example of using S4 or a delegating leadership style incorrectly:

A manager empowers a recently hired employee to organize the company picnic with no real sense for this employee’s experience or interest with this kind of endeavor.

Understanding the benefits of delegation is relatively straightforward. Knowing both how and when to delegate is significantly more difficult! In that context, the real job of any leader is to identify what style of leadership a follower needs for a given situation. Consider Situational Leadership® as a timing mechanism that helps leaders determine when … to do what in that regard!