The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences

"Effective Delegation: Who Wants the Dollar Bill?" with Alison Fragale '97

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Alison Fragale ’97 discusses effective delegation with the Class of 2018 Rockefeller Leadership Fellows. (Photo by Hung Nguyen)

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Class of 2018 Leadership Fellows discuss expectancy theory in their session with Alison Fragale ’97. (Photo by Hung Nguyen)

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Class of 2018 Leadership Fellows work through a group activity to further think about effective delegation. (Photo by Hung Nguyen)

“Who wants it?” asked Alison Fragale ’97, as she held up a crisp dollar bill. For a split second, Washington looked out to silent room of Fellows. Then, Matthew Sindelar ’18 sprung from his seat and dived for the dollar bill.

But before he took the bill, Sindelar hesitated and asked, “can I really have it?”

Fragale emphatically nodded, and Sindelar returned to his seat with a grin and one dollar richer.

Fragale then prompted the room, asking why no one else made an effort for the dollar bill. Charlie Blatt ’18, sitting at the far side of the room, noted that there was virtually no possibility that she would reach Fragale before a student sitting at the front of the room. Another student added that it was only a dollar, not a stack of Benjamins. In essence, it wasn’t that the students were lazy or apathetic. As rational actors, students logically saw that minimal reward compounded with low probability for success and the social tackiness of grand public gestures for money made the dollar not worth the effort.

Fragale’s activity was designed to teach students “expectancy theory”, a theory developed at the Yale School of Management that explains an individual’s mental processes when making a choice. It’s split into three steps: effort (E), performance (P) and outcome (O). These three steps are linked by “expectancy” and “instrumentality”.

Expectancy is the belief that a person’s effort (E) results in the achievement of performance (P) goals. In the case of the dollar bill, it refers to Blatt’s comment—even if I make the effort to get out of my chair, will I get to the dollar bill before someone else?

Instrumentality explains the linkage between performance (P) and outcome (O) of the achievement, or the potential for reward. In this case, it was Sindelar’s pause before taking the dollar bill—I’ve reached the dollar bill first, but will I actually be able to take it and keep it?

In cases of organizational behavior and management, expectancy theory gives leaders insight into the motivations behind individuals’ actions. Instead of allowing leaders to assume employees are unmotivated or unproductive, it prompts leaders to reassess the factors behind low performance that they may have a role in influencing through effective delegation.

In this way, the activity taught students the critical leadership competency of effective delegation. Leaders are not extraordinarily more capable than others in the organization; in fact, it is impossible for a leader to be an expert in all of the necessary skills to run an organization. However, leaders do have the critical skill of understanding the strengths of their teammates and providing their employees ample opportunity for professional development. They lead by the mantra: “do what you do best, and delegate the rest.”

-Written by Kaina Chen '18, Rockefeller Leadership Fellow 

This ongoing series explores sessions of the Rockefeller Leadership Fellows (RLF) program. RLF provides fellows with resources in leadership theories and practical skills. Selected their Junior Spring, these Seniors take part in the workshops, dinner discussions, and team-building exercises as they gain a better understanding of the qualities and responsibilities necessary for leaders and successful leadership styles. 

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