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From Languishing to Leadership through Effective Delegation and Feedback

The Essence of Leadership

Think of someone who has been a positive leader in your life.  What leadership qualities do they demonstrate that you most value and appreciate?  Some common leadership traits that many admire include the ability to communicate a clear vision, set clear expectations, inspire commitment and give and receive feedback. 

What is leadership?  Does it require a certain personality style to be effective?  In its most basic terms, leadership is the ability to get yourself and others from where you are to where you want to be. It is about getting things done through and with other people.  Leadership is when people follow you because they want to, not because they have to follow.  The most effective leaders utilize influence and coaching not authority or coercion to get positive results.

What’s the difference between leading by authority and leading by influence?  The chart below gives a few distinctions:




Do it because I said so…

Do it because it is the right thing to do and you want to do the right thing

I say when… I say how…

I say when… You say how…

Command and control

Collaboration and connection

…Or Else

…What Else

Defend and protect

Create and build



Playing not to lose

Playing to win

 If a leader wants to get things done through and with other people, then effective delegation skills are needed.  If a leader wants to be followed because people want to follow then effective feedback skills are essential.


How many times have we had a task that we are sure we should delegate to someone only to find ourselves working extra hours to get the job done?  Intuitively, most leaders know that delegation is critical to get results, however it’s not always a choice leaders make in the moment.  Typical reasons leaders avoid delegation are fear that the job won’t be done right or done well, and in many cases it is perceived as “easier” to do it yourself.  Consider, though, the longer term consequence to not delegating.  We miss opportunities to grow and develop our people and free ourselves up to work on the more complex, strategic needs of the organization. That said ineffective delegation can be almost as detrimental to no delegation, so the following 5 techniques aid leaders in delegating effectively.

 1)     Decide what to delegate.  A critical first step to effective delegation is to decide what can (or should be) delegated.  The choice is likely dependent upon the complexity of the assignment and time/urgency to complete the assignment.  Low risk or repetitive tasks are an easy place to practice delegation.

2)     Decide to whom to delegate. The second step is to determine who has the skill to do the task, who can be taught the skill to do the task and/or who is available to do the task.  Ideally, the leader decides based upon who will benefit the most in professional and career development from the delegated assignment.

3)     Define the project.  Defining the project begins with clarifying project goals and the expected results. It is critical that the leaders establish clear due dates and project milestones.  The leader should also explain criteria for evaluation and define the limits of authority.

4)     Determine check-in procedures.  During most every delegated project, questions and check-in will be required.  An ideal approach is to mutually determine how and when check-ins will occur.  Determine the preferred mode of communication for check-ins as well as define the process for answering questions.  Lastly, the leader should build in time for mistakes.

5)     Manage completion of the project.  If there are mistakes in the project, the leader should avoid fixing them if at all possible.  Learning from a mistake is often the best teacher. Once the project is completed, it is valuable to review what skills were utilized and developed to complete the tasks.  It is also important for the leader to reward and recognize results.

 Giving & Receiving Feedback

Leaders inspire followers when priority is placed on giving and receiving feedback regularly.  Feedback is a gift, even if it feels like it is wrapped in barbed wire, it is a gift nonetheless.  Following are the 6 techniques for giving and receiving effective feedback. 

1)     Preparation, planning and strategy.  A critical first step to giving or receiving feedback is to have a game plan with a set agenda, goals and objectives.  Leaders do well to ask for smaller windows of time and provide smaller “bites” of feedback in any given meeting.  Preparing thoughtful questions can also be helpful to stimulate conversation and collaboration.

2)     Ask permission. Getting ambushed or receiving a stealth voice mail message requesting to “give feedback” is a recipe for fear, worry and lost productivity.  With spot feedback, leaders are encouraged to ask if it is a “good time” to give/receive feedback and properly set the stage for a productive conversation.  “Asking permission” also gives the other person time to prepare.

3)     Active listening.  Active listening is a function of making eye contact, providing encouragement through non-verbal cues like nodding, asking follow-up or probing questions and confirming next steps.  Leaders should avoid the temptation of multi-tasking with one ear in the conversation and one eye on the computer, PDA or cell phone.  Remove distractions and meet in a neutral setting to encourage optimal listening.

4)     Showing your work.  One of the most basic indicators that feedback has been accurately received is to ask the listener to provide a summary recap in an email of what’s been heard and the next steps.  Alternatively, the leader can also provide a summary of key messages and expectations to ensure that feedback and expectations are clear.

5)     Intentional relationship building.  The most effective feedback is communicated when both parties have a foundation of trust.  Trust is best built through relationship building.  Relationships are built when leaders seek to understand the goals and objectives (personal and professional) of the other person and invite feedback, ask advice and offer to help without any “strings” or ulterior motives.

6)     Make the most of small moments.  Leaders often think that feedback is what you give during annual reviews and formal sit-down meetings.  Some of the most effective times to exchange feedback are in the small moments that may include before or after hours, over coffee or traveling with a person when the environment is more relaxed and conversational.

 What’s Possible?

Imagine the possibility that you have more time, more freedom and more trust within your teams.  Imagine what benefits you can receive (short and long term) when you are willing to let go and let others do and when you are willing to provide feedback that is both constructive and rewarding.  Leaders grow future leaders when they are willing to delegate and willing to communicate feedback regularly.  People work with the leader because they want to, not because they have to and ultimately the leaders have more freedom to focus on higher level, more strategic work.  Leadership is privilege and leaves a legacy with those who follow.

Stop languishing.  Start leading.  

As first appeared in the January/February 2010 edition of the “Administrators Advantage” the newsletter of the Chicago Chapter of Association of Legal Administrators.

Copyright © 2020 GrowthPlayNational Law Review, Volume , Number 202



About this Author

Deborah Knupp, Akina, Business Coach

Deborah Knupp has worked globally with CEOs, executives, managing partners and attorneys as a coach and business executive for over 20 years. She has helped these leaders align their people systems and business objectives to create cultures based on the principles of accountability, integrity and authentic relationship building. Her work has focused on making the work environment a place where employees "want" to be; where clients "want" to buy; and, where leaders "want" to serve a bigger purpose in their communities and families.