Can You Delegate Leadership?

I’m sitting here on my couch in my pajamas nursing a cold, wondering who is going to write this post for me. No one but me, that’s who. But it got me thinking… when you are not available to lead, who leads for you?

We’ve seen it many times: a key player — who is not even necessarily the leader in title — on a team, in an organization, or a project moves on for any number of reasons and soon standards drop, progress slows or people start to drift away.

It’s not just about covering your responsibilities.

I used to work at a chemical plant. When one of the key managers was planning to be completely unavailable, a “surrogate” would be assigned. There was a procedure around this that addressed what qualifications the person needed, how to bring the surrogate up to speed, criteria for when it was time to escalate a situation, etc.  I can’t say that the quality of credibility as a leader was an essential part of the equation though.

You could debate the circumstances that require this disciplined protocol. If it isn’t really necessary for you, what then?

There’s this thing called “succession planning.”

When you are looking toward the long haul, like a planned exit, whether it’s due to retirement, relocation or just being time to move on, succession planning often doesn't get the attention it deserves.  Identifying and preparing people to fill key positions takes time and intentional effort, not just going through the motions.

Dynamics are going to change when a void is created, maybe even for the better, but what is the best way to retain the stability, the vision or the heart a true leader brings?

Succession planning is more than just identifying a successor.

Of course there should be development involved. There are development opportunities that require the potential successor to learn to get work done through others, and to establish their own philosophy, style and vision. Yes, some qualities are inherent and just need to be given room to blossom.  Some skills can be learned through training and real-life practice.

Do you really want success to be dependent on one person?

The ideal would be that you develop a culture where just about anyone could take the lead to make things happen, rally the troops, or uphold standards, even in the absence of the "leader."

I’d love to hear the wisdom of this community and our readers.  What do you know about developing leaders and cultivating a culture of leadership to sustain a vision and standards in the face of the inevitable gap caused by someone's absence?

What are your tips and experiences?


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