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

RLF Recap: "Don't Go It Alone: Effective Delegation and Empowerment for Leaders"

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The second session of winter term was led by Alison Fragale ’97, a doctor in Organizational Behavior. Prior to the session, Dr. Fragale tasked the Fellows with reading the classic Harvard Business Review article “Management Time: Who’s Got the Monkey?” by William Oncken Jr. and Donald L. Wass. The article uses an extended metaphor of monkeys to encourage managers to be mindful of taking on unnecessary extra work from their subordinates. In line with this idea, Dr. Fragale began the session by gauging the likelihood of Fellows taking on extra “monkeys” in their work. The verdict? With a majority of Fellows agreeing with the statement “I can usually do tasks quicker and better than myself, than by delegating” and disagreeing with “I can live with acceptable work that is not done the way I would have done it,” it is clear that many of the Fellows may be apt to under-delegating. Luckily, Dr. Fragale was joining the Fellows to help them formulate strategies to avoid accepting additional work that is better left to another colleague.

Delegation is, according to Dr. Fragale, a shift in decision-making authority from one level of hierarchy to another, usually downward. Responsibility, authority, and accountability are the three primary components of the crucial management skill of delegation. Under this framework, completing tasks that fall under the job description, micromanaging someone else’s work, pushing undesirable work onto a subordinate, or generally abdicating responsibility for work do not count as responsible delegation. Good managers support their team, cultivate potential, develop skills among team members, and still execute their own responsibilities in a timely fashion. As Dr. Fragale implied during her presentation, leadership is intelligent management and efficient management is a core leadership competency.

To become better delegators, we must first understand our personal justifications for avoiding delegating work. A number of the reasons that Fellows shared for why they do not always delegate properly were a lack of trust in their colleagues, wanting the credit for the work themselves, a desire to save time, or a distaste for losing control over the task. To help the Fellows understand which tasks are best delegated, Dr. Fragale led the Fellows in a thought experiment. She first asked the Fellows to list all the tasks that they complete for an organization that they do at least as well as anyone else and are critical to the function of the organization. Next, the Fellows were instructed to list all the tasks that they completed for the organization within the past month. The tasks that should be delegated first are those that are on the latter list but not the former; the tasks that should never be delegated are those tasks on the former list.

A good manager also understands how to motivate their subordinates to perform at a high level, according to Dr. Fragale. To guide the assignment of tasks when delegating, managers should consider the Effort-Performance-Outcome factors for their subordinates. When managers correctly gauge these factors for each subordinate, effective delegation and team synergy are realized. As leaders, Fellows should also understand these factors for themselves, enabling them to make smarter career choices for themselves as they begin the next stage of their lives.


-Written by Maria Smith-Lopez, Class of 2021 Rockefeller Leadership Fellow and Student Program Assistant

As Rockefeller Leadership Fellows, seniors gain a better understanding of the qualities and responsibilities expected of leaders. As Fellows take part in the workshops, discussions, and team-building exercises, they examine their skills, qualities, and attributes as leaders and analyze how these influence teamwork and achieving goals. 

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