The Triton


Taking the Helm: Delegating is not the easy way out


Taking the Helm: by Paul Ferdais

Delegation is one of the essential skills for successful leadership. Without the ability to delegate, it’s not possible to become a truly effective leader. The challenge of delegating for some leaders is their willingness to trust others to share the load.

Leaders at all levels can have difficulty delegating. Unfortunately, the alternative to delegating is doing it all yourself. Leaders who don’t delegate end up with so many responsibilities and jobs to do personally that they’re unable to make their full contribution to their organizations.

An unwillingness to delegate is often based on one of two viewpoints. The first rests on the idea of having to give up control. The other is based on fear, where a leader may not delegate because they are fearful that the other person may excel and be considered for advancement instead of the leader. Both of these viewpoints hold a leader back from being truly successful. Delegate anyway.

Here are some steps to consider when deciding to delegate:

Step one: Prepare a list

Think through the job. Make a list of everything that has to be done for the task to be completed successfully. Planning ahead helps complete the task faster. Unfortunately, many managers delegate first and then think through the job later.

Step two: Prepare the person

It’s important to prepare the person being delegated the task with the proper training to complete the job to the necessary level. If the leader neglects to prepare the person in advance then responsibility for any failure rests squarely with the leader. Prepare people for success through in-depth training.

Step three: Set clear expectations at the beginning

Once team members are adequately trained, clearly lay out specific results expected based on the list created. Help crew members understand the outcomes expected of them in the completion of a particular task, not simply the activities that they need to engage in each day.

For example, when a deck team does a washdown together for the first time, a leader needs to clearly explain if they have specific expectations about how the job is done. A leader may point out particular things to pay attention to as part of the job, such as washing the underside of capping rails, washing behind doors that are usually left open, mopping the scupper at the end of the washdown, etc.

When people know exactly what is expected of them, and when, and to what standard of quality, they then have an opportunity to perform at a high level. They have an opportunity to achieve the kind of results we’re looking for.

Step four: Delegate completely

Let the person to whom a task has been delegated know they are completely responsible for an important task when it’s delegated to them. This includes the authority necessary to complete the task. This may include purchasing parts or renting equipment if it’s required. Employees demonstrate greater loyalty, commitment, and dedication to the organization when they feel a sense of ownership and personal empowerment.

Step five: Let them do it

Once a task has been delegated, get out of the way and let the person do the job. Give the crew member 100 percent responsibility. Don’t take the job back. We can inadvertently “take it back” by continually checking on the person, asking for too much feedback, and then giving comments and recommending changes in the middle of the job. This displays a lack of confidence in the crew member.

However, if crew members do their task improperly, then the leader needs to acknowledge they didn’t do a good enough job preparing the co-worker for the delegation. When something isn’t going to work out and will end up being detrimental, step in. Don’t wait until it’s too late to speak up.

Be aware that there may be a lot of questions when you delegate to someone, especially for the first time. Be available and open to lend assistance if required for the team to succeed. Fortunately, if the crew are trained to the appropriate level, there may not be too many questions.

Sometimes, despite all our preparation and discussion during the delegation process, things go wrong. How will this be handled? Will the crew member get fired? Will we seek to place blame? When delegating, prepare for when things do go wrong. How will you react? Think about what kind of problems can occur and include them when setting expectations at the beginning.

When things do go wrong, it’s always better to try to find out what happened, why it happened, and what needs to be done to fix it.

Be the leader who builds up crew members, not the one who holds them back.

A former first officer, Paul Ferdais is founder and CEO of The Marine Leadership Group (

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