If your company is healthy and growing, you’ll never be able to be everywhere at once, doing or overseeing everything that needs to be done. The fact that there are only a limited number of hours in the day will probably force you to try delegative leadership, which is an approach that involves sharing responsibility with qualified staff members. Although delegative leadership may come about initially because of constraints on your time and energy, it will ultimately open you and your business to far-reaching possibilities.


Delegative leadership opens new possibilities through collaboration.

Delegative Leadership Definition

Delegative leadership is a management strategy geared toward sharing knowledge and responsibility across many levels of an organization. Delegative leadership can take the form of an entirely hands-off approach, giving managers and team members complete control over work processes and outcomes. Other companies approach delegative leadership as a true partnership, with department managers and their staff taking the lead in day-to-day operations with ongoing oversight from upper management levels.

Some delegative leadership style examples include decentralized management, which distributes decision-making power among a community of managers, and delegative democracy, which emphasizes the importance of hearing all voices and determining strategy via voting or consensus. Laissez-faire leadership is an entirely hands-off approach, allowing managers almost complete leeway. This style of delegative leadership tends to be relatively ineffective because it provides too much freedom and too little guidance.

Delegative Leadership Advantages

If your business uses a delegative approach to leadership, you won’t need to micromanage every detail. By delegating different managerial tasks to specific members of your team, you move these responsibilities off of your own plate with a clear directive for someone else to take charge. It is your responsibility to check in and provide guidance and insight, but you no longer have to fret about the everyday details. This frees you up to put more time and energy into strategic direction and it also gives you more personal time to recreate and regenerate.

Delegative leadership also broadens your organization’s knowledge base. Instead of relying on your personal knowledge and strengths, you can now draw on the background and experience of a well-rounded team. Your staff may have experience and training that reaches beyond your own, and their skills will continue to grow once they have the authority to take initiative and actively learn.

Another advantage of delegative leadership is its capacity to motivate the members of your staff. As you delegate responsibility, you give them a sense of ownership, and this extra stake makes them willing to go the extra mile and step up when a situation calls for extra time and effort. As your managers assume this added level of responsibility, you will find yourself even more willing to delegate to them, creating a positive feedback loop that benefits everyone involved.

Disadvantages of Delegative Leadership

Despite its advantages, delegative leadership also involves a loss of control over an organization that you have most likely built with painstaking effort and deep personal investment. Maintaining control over a closely held business isn’t just a matter of pathologically hanging onto power, even when it isn’t in your best interests to do so. Consolidated leadership control also allows you to exert an influence that is consistent with the contributions you have made and the perspectives you have.

When you delegate leadership responsibilities, you may be transferring authority and decision-making power to associates who aren’t as knowledgeable as you are. In addition, they may know less than they think they know, putting you in the awkward and unpleasant position of having to step in and undermine their efforts. This interference is likely to create interpersonal difficulties that will temper the morale boost that delegative leadership provides.

Delegating responsibility can also make your operation less cohesive. Instead of operating with a coherent vision spearheaded by a single individual, your business will be run by a community of individuals who may disagree about the best way to proceed. In addition, because you will be stepping away to some extent, you may not see this discontinuity until it becomes a full-fledged issue.

Best Practices

In many ways, delegative leadership style pros and cons are simply different sides of the same coin. You can minimize the odds of difficulties and maximize the chances of quality work by learning to delegate leadership responsibilities in ways that position your staff for success.

  • Communicate early and often. By communicating clearing about what you need and how you expect the work to be done, you give your managers the information they need to implement your vision, even if they can take considerable liberty in the process.
  • Forgive mistakes. Few people are born with an innate knowledge of how to manage and lead. Your staff will most likely make mistakes as they step into bigger shoes, and part of your role as general manager is to support them even when things go awry. Direct your energy towards supporting and educating rather than shaming and blaming.
  • Balance reticence and intervention. Even when you delegate leadership responsibilities, there will be times when you need to step in and set things right. Doing so takes a delicate balance between using your knowledge, experience and perspective, and managing with a light hand so your staff can still feel like they have control. Sometimes it’s better to let your coworkers make mistakes and learn from the consequences than to assert yourself with a heavy hand.
  • Provide tools. Your managers may need additional training as they learn how to lead. You can provide this training yourself and maintain some level of confidence that they will continue in a way that is consistent with your personal style. Alternatively, you can enlist outside training resources so their skills and knowledge can move into territory that you aren’t already covering.

Delegative Leadership Examples

Most restaurants have executive chefs who are responsible for managing their kitchens. Duties include testing recipes and creating menus, inventory and purchasing, and managing kitchen staff. A separate manager will be responsible for running the front of the house, including training and scheduling waitstaff, hosting personnel and bartenders. As general manager, your job is to oversee these positions and make sure they’re working well together, and also to provide a coherent vision that syncs their efforts.

Universities are organized into departments, with a professor with a background in English chairing the English department and a professor with a background in engineering chairing the engineering department. It doesn’t make sense for one leader to chair both of these departments because the knowledge and objectives of these areas are so different. In addition, the university itself will have a range of offices with diverse administrative responsibilities including the dean of students, dean of faculty, career development office and human resources.

A worker-owned cooperative is a business with delegative leadership at its core. As a workplace democracy, a worker coop is rooted in the insight that broad-based engagement and responsibility help a business to thrive. Although worker coops are based on egalitarian principles, their operating principles often acknowledge hierarchies of experience, or the fact that some worker-owners know more and have been in the field longer than others. By incorporating the idea of experience hierarchies, a coop can reap the advantages of both widespread worker investment and respectful guidance from leadership.