Delegate Tasks Effectively Using the Situational Leadership Model

Most managers often know that they should be delegating regularly, but how do they delegate tasks effectively?

In recent articles, we defined that delegation should be a continuous thing to do; not something that you pick up and implement every now and again.

In this article, we’ll go through the four step framework to help you delegate tasks effectively, and make it a habit, so you can be your own version of the 1 minute manager.

When Delegation Goes Wrong

You’re leading a small team and one of your employees, Sarah, is relatively new to her task that you are about to set her.

Nevertheless, you give her it, and tell her that it needs to be completed in the next couple of hours. You ask if she has any issues, and she confirms she is okay.

You return in little under two hours later to find that Sarah hasn’t completed the task very well at all and your deadline of two hours is over. Now you have to rush a two hour job which is already delayed.

Who is at Fault Here?

An autocratic manager would instantly say it’s Sarah’s fault. She said she was okay with the task and was left to get on with it. She needs to be punished for doing a bad job.

Perhaps she’s not a good fit for the team?

The reality is, you are at fault as the leader. You gave them the task and it was short notice. You rushed her through the objectives and ran to your next appointment.  Don’t forget, despite delegating tasks, you still have accountability to ensure that its completed on time and to standard.

Sure, Sarah said she was okay. But she may have been reluctant to tell you that she couldn’t do it, in fear of coming across as incompetent. Perhaps she thought she could, only to find that she was out of her depth?

How did it get to the point where you dumped a task without talking her through it?

Obviously, there’s a lesson to learn from both parties. But as the leader, you are accountable for what gets done or not done, in this case.

Here’s What We Could Have Done

We could’ve sat down with Sarah in good time and discussed the task.

We should have detailed the steps in the task. This will include what needs to be done and how, and when.

We should’ve then identified what extra resource Sarah needs to get the job done and be on call in case she gets stuck along the way.

While she is working on the task, we should have actively helped her through it.

Delegating is a two way street. It’s not merely the act of telling someone they must do something. It involves carefully working out tasks that are in line with the team’s goals and objectives and also the individuals goals and skills needs.

In other words, good delegation comes from first identifying the skills that each team member can develop, and then starting the process of assigning them, to build their confidence and skill levels up.

Situational Leadership and Delegating

One of the best models of knowing how and when to delegate tasks effectively is the Situational Leadership Model.

Developed by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard, situational leadership is a framework to allow you to delegate the right way and to be able to adjust your leadership style to suit the situation.

Task Maturity

Think of the ability to delegate tasks effectively as a recipe. Follow the same framework and you’ll get a consistent result. This then builds capability and sets you apart as a leader that ensures things get done, and people develop under your guidance.

In situational leadership, you must change your leadership style to suit the situation. No one style works all the time.

 The situation consists of two key factors:

  • The task maturity of the person in question;
  • The confidence levels of that individual.

In other words, based on how good they are at the task and how motivated and confident they are to get it done, will dictate how you lead them through it.

For instance, Sarah may have initially been confident at completing the task for you, but her skill level was practically at beginner.

This meant that she should have been managed differently to someone that is competent at the task.

Each maturity can be summarised as follows:

  • Low competence + High commitment;
  • Low to some competence + Low commitment;
  • High competence + Variable commitment;
  • High competence + High commitment.

We could word it simpler:

  • Unable but willing (M1);
  • Some ability but unwilling (M2);
  • Able but unwilling (at times) (M3);
  • Able and willing (M4).

An Example of Delegating Effectively and How We Grow Through The Quadrants

Let’s go through an example of learning to drive a car.

At the start, when you sign up for driving lessons you probably have a feeling of anxiety but also excitement. 

You may well be a little overconfident – thinking you can learn in a few sessions and be on your way to independence in no time at all!

And so at the first stage, we are highly confident but have low skill level.

This is what is referred to as M1: maturity level –  Unable but willing.

Maturity Level 2 or M2

We’ve had a few driving lessons and we realise that the complexity of driving is harder than we thought. This would naturally dent our confidence a bit and so we feel more insecure about learning to drive. We start to see the many complexities of driving and it is a bit daunting.

We also appreciate how much we have to learn. We have improved our skills to a point, but remain unable to drive on our own. Our confidence is relatively low.

We have some Some ability but unwilling.

Maturity level 3 or M3

This is the growing performer stage. We start to feel more accustomed to driving and are developing crucial skills, too. We are also largely autonomous behind the wheel.

There are some skills that are becoming less cognitive and more instinctive.

But we are still prone to a few mistakes. And as we make them, our confidence can get affected. As a result, sometimes we feel able and confident about taking the test soon. Other times, we feel like we are just not ready and we’ll never get over the hump. 

This is because we are still trying to process our cognitive skills.

This is where we are able but sometimes unwilling.

Maturity level 4: M4

At this stage of the maturity grid, we’ve reached a high competency and high confidence level.

We’re now at a more autonomous skill. We just know what to do with little thought.

In the case of the car, we are capable of passing the test and driving on our own without the need of an instructor.

In summary, we are able and willing.

We’ve now gone through the 4 quadrants on the situational leadership grid.

Delegate Tasks Effectively Using the Grid

As touched on previously, how we lead and delegate tasks effectively, depends on: 

  • How much support we provide;
  • How much we direct them.

Supporting Behaviour

This is the extent to which you allow that person to make decisions and support them through decision making.

Naturally, if they are willing and competent, you don’t have to support them as much. If they are able but largely unwilling, then your role is to support them to keep them motivated and engaged – and continue their learning.

Directing Behaviour

This is the amount of direction and control you have.

In other words how much you do the talking and telling.

For instance, someone new to the role will be led by your direction and decisions. The more they develop, the more you can step back and let them make their own decisions.

And so, how we delegate tasks effectively, will change to suit the situation.

Delegating Correctly Based on Task Maturity

The amount of direction and support you provide can be matched to the amount of skill and confidence that person has with the task. In summary, each leadership style can be matched to a task maturity:

  • S1 (Direct and tell) = M1 (unable but willing);
  • S2 (Influence) = M2 (largely unable and unwilling);
  • S3 (Able but unwilling at times) = M3 (collaborate and support);
  • S4 (able and willing) = M4 (Empower and delegate).

Delegation style 1: Direct and tell – this consists of high task, and low support.

In other words you are directing and telling the individual what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. You are providing the structure for them to follow to get the job done to an acceptable level and time frame.

Delegation style 2: Influence them – this involves high task focus but also a high degree of support focus. In other words, you are now explaining why you are making the decisions you make and taking the approach you are taking.

This allows the individual to understand your approach to the task. This is the first stage of getting the employee to internalise why you are doing something, rather than just being told to do it.

Delegating style 3: support – this involves a low task  and high focus. In other words, you are not controlling the conversation anymore. You merely pass over decision-making to the individual and listen to how they decided and what they are planning to do. You can help coach and ask questions to drill down with reasoning, and to ensure everything is captured.

At this stage, their willingness and confidence can be erratic, so the emphasis here is about support and keeping them energised to blast through the lower ebbs when they come.

Delegation style 4: Empower – at this stage, you’re now at the low task and low supporting focus.

In other words you can assign the task, and step back, happy that they know exactly what they need to do and how they need to do it.

The individual has the autonomy to get things done with input from you, when they need it. 

How to Use the Situational Leadership Model to Delegate Tasks Effectively

Step one. Pick a task or project that a team member can benefit from learning.

For instance, if you run a customer service team. You may pick from the following:

  • Deal with customer complaints and report feedback into the non conformance system;
  • Attend customer onboarding sessions for new projects;
  • Project manage new customer projects;
  • Report weekly and monthly customer satisfaction scores;
  • Manage daily enquiries;
  • Update the website for accurate product descriptions;
  • Conduct weekly profit and loss reporting;
  • Engage in and run problem solving projects;
  • Improve current customer service processes for efficiency and productivity;
  • Train team members in other departments on new products and processes.

Any one of the above are good activities to delegate and get people on the development curve.

Step 2:  Agree the task maturity and delegation style

Openly discuss the situational leadership grid with them. Agree where the team member is in terms of task maturity.

Once you’ve agreed to this, then discuss how you’ll delegate tasks effectively, based on how much support and directing you’ll provide.

In other words, at the start, are you going to direct, influence, collaborate, or empower them (based on the 4 approaches from the gird)?

Step 3: Start coaching and delegating! 

At this point, your role is to support that person through implementing the task and developing their skills. Follow the leadership style that suits their current task maturity.

Agree how often you’ll review the status of the task with them. The more competent they are, the less the frequency.

Step 4: Refine your leadership style as their maturity changes.

Ensure you refer back to the model and agree their next maturity level and your supporting leadership style, as they progress.

Keep returning to this, as they develop through the 4 stages.

The ultimate goal is to keep taking each person through the 4 stages. And as they move to level 4 in a certain task, add another element of the skill to the mix and return them back to level 1, coaching them through the task again.

The more you and your team do it, the more it becomes a process that simply happens without too much thought every day.