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Principles of leadership and delegation

Principles of leadership and delegation


Understanding Individuals: Principles of Leadership and Delegation


This section covers:

  • Principles of leadership and delegation


Definition a leader is 'a person who rules, guides or inspires others' and leading is 'capability of guiding, directing, influencing or inspiring others'.

Yukl (1994) stated that 'it has been a long held belief that the major factor which distinguishes successful organisations from their less successful counterparts is the presence of dynamic and effective leadership.   John Adair (2003) commented that 'leadership is the most studied subject in the world and the least understood'.

Adair (2003) identified three signposts to good leadership:

1.  Qualities:            'what you are'

2.  Situational:          'what you know'

3.  Functional:          'what you do'

Leadership is complex in public health, particularly as public health professionals mostly lead without authority, working across health and social care organisations in  the public and voluntary sectors.  Professionals have to change to fit new circumstances, alter and modify behaviour, and take into account different cultures that effect the situation and the organisations that they are leading.  They also need to balance and ensure that there is a common agenda that all organisations are working towards.


Leader v Manager

In 'Leading in the N.H.S.: A Practical Guide', Rosemary Stewart quotes from Field Marshal Lord Slim on the subject of the difference between leaders and managers.

'There is a difference between leadership and management. Leadership is of the spirit, compounded of personality and vision; its practice is an art. Management is of the mind, a matter of accurate calculation, its practice is a science. Managers are necessary: leaders are essential.'

Stewart then notes that it is 'the extent and rapidity of change that makes leadership so important'.

'But while there is no doubt that leadership skills are of central importance,' she writes, 'the integration of management and leadership skills is what is needed in the health service today'.

Both the Leader and the Manager need to understand the aims, objectives and goals of the organisation and have clarity of vision.  Without these facets they will be unable to communicate and chaos will ensue.  However, there the similarity ends.  

The table highlights some of the differences in the behaviours of the leader v manager.


  Leader Characteristics

  Manager Characteristics

  Understands and listens

  Is the boss



However, these differences are not mutually exclusive and often there is no clear distinction between the two, as shown in the diagram below.



There are many different leadership theories, using a variety of different models.  The most important consideration understands the impact of your style on others, your ability to delegate and the negative aspects it might engender.  Many good leaders are able to change their leadership styles to meet the needs of those they are leading and are able to delegate effectively spreading the workload.  Whatever the style, communication is one of the keys to successful leadership.


Goleman’s 6 Styles of Leadership

Daniel Goleman (2002) popularised the term emotional intelligence (EI), as an essential element of leadership style.  High IQ is necessary but not sufficient for a leader, and is fixed, whereas emotional intelligence develops over time and its development can be enhanced and encouraged by increased self-awareness.  Leaders connect with individuals and teams through emotions. Empathy is a core capability as empathic leaders win the trust of their staff, who feel valued and understood.

The four domains of emotional intelligence (which are closely interlinked) are:

Self-awareness – this is the foundation of all the other domains of EI and is about understanding our personality and emotions, and the ability to notice how we react to others.

Self-management – this involves controlling or redirecting our disruptive emotions and impulses and adapting to changing circumstances.

Social awareness – empathy and serving others is the core of this domain. Empathy is sensing others’ emotions, and perceiving things from their perspective.

Relationship management - managing relationships to move people in the desired direction.


Goleman developed his leadership styles based on an assessment of emotional intelligence.  He describes six leadership styles, as follows. Each is illustrated with a brief description of how the style brings people along, and its impact on organisational culture and climate.

Visionary – moves people toward shared dreams. This has the strongest impact on organisational culture.

Coaching – connects what a person wants with the organisational goals. This has a highly positive impact on organisational culture.

Affiliative – creates harmony by connecting people to each other. This has a positive impact on organisational culture.

Democratic – values people’s input and gets commitment through participation. This has a highly positive impact on organisational culture.

Pace-setting – meets challenging and exciting goals. Because too frequently poorly executed, this often has a highly negative impact on organisational culture.

Commanding – sooths fears by giving clear direction in an emergency. Because so often misused, this has a highly negative impact on organisational culture.


House's 4 Styles of Leadership

House (1980) identifies four styles of leadership and three contingency variables. Leaders are more influential and more effective when they are capable of using a style that complements specific contexts within which they are working, rather than using the same style all the time.

1.  Leader directiveness: this style is appropriate when tasks are ambiguous, as the leader absorbs uncertainty for the group.  Tasks are clearly delegated with monitoring of identified outcomes.

  • letting subordinates know what is expected
  • saying what should be done and how
  • clearly defining the role of the leader
  • maintaining standards of performance and work scheduling

2.  Leader supportiveness: this style is appropriate when tasks are highly repetitive, frustrating or physically unpleasant.  Being 'one of the crowd' helps to compensate for situational conditions and makes it easier to delegate unpleasant functions.

  • being interpersonally aware of the needs of others
  • treating group members as equals
  • being friendly and approachable

3.  Leader achievement-orientation: Achievement-orientation is appropriate for groups who face non-repetitive tasks which are also ambiguous.  This style, it is argued, aims to maintain a constant striving for excellence in performance.  This approach is less likely to rely on delegation as the 'buy in' will result in staff offering to take responsibility for different areas.

  • setting goals which are challenging
  • continuously seeking performance indicators
  • having a high degree of faith in others to perform to the best of their ability
  • continually emphasising the achievement of excellence

4.  Leader participation: this style is appropriate in situations where the group comprises largely internally orientated individuals who are engaged in non-repetitive tasks and will offer to undertake certain roles without a delegation process being involved.

  • consulting others regularly
  • asking for suggestions and advice from others over specific decisions
  • taking all suggestions into account when making a decision


House's Three Contingency Variables

Each of the four styles is dependent upon three contingency variables, each of which has an impact on the effectiveness of the style employed.  The three variables relate to the characteristics of subordinates.  They are:

1.  Whether subordinates are close-minded and rigid, or are open and flexible to how they operate.

2.  Whether subordinates are internally or externally orientated.  Internals believe broadly that any event is a consequence of their own actions.  Externals believe that what happens to them is largely a matter of luck, chance or fate.

3.  The ability of subordinates to handle the current task and to develop and learn how to handle future tasks.


Decision Making

Different styles of decision making achieve different results and different personalities respond to the different styles.  There is no magic formula, leaders need to be flexible and to vary their approach as circumstances dictate.  Vroom and Yetton's (1973) five decision styles, can be grouped under three headings:


Autocratic styles:

  • you solve the problem or make the decision yourself using information available to you at the time
  • you obtain the information required from your subordinates, then decide yourself. You may or may not let your subordinates know the nature of the decision problem.  Subordinates are treated solely as information-givers, not as generators of alternative courses of action or of solutions.

This works best when accompanied by power, authority, status or age.  It is fast and efficient, but autocracy has its downside, others may not 'buy in' when faced with 'fait accompli'.

It is best if it is only used when a quick response is required for a short term commitment and the leader is prepared to check the course of action is being followed directly.


Consultative styles:

  • you share the problem with subordinates on an individual basis.  Having collected together their ideas suggestions, you then make the decision yourself.  This may or may not reflect the subordinates' influence.
  • you collect together subordinates as a group.  They generate alternatives and suggest solutions in discussion with you.  Then you make the decision individually (as above).

The Consultative style can engender a high level of different views which are then sifted by the decision maker.  This can lead to a high level of dissatisfaction if and when views are ignored or moderated, alternatively you may also not arrive at the solution that you feel appropriate.


Collective or group style:

  • you share the problems with a group of subordinates.  Together you try and reach a consensus on the problem and its solution.  You act much as a chairperson of the group, not trying to influence the group to adopt your preferred solution.  You are also willing to accept and to implement any solution, which has the support of the entire group.

This is a much slower process that may not reach the 'best solution' but a mediocre one that pleases everyone.  A high level of facilitation is required to achieve even a mediocre solution. 


Leadership character qualities

Olivier Mythodrama Associates identified four character qualities of different types of leaders, each quality has its curses which those in these roles should be aware of, as this affects how they relate to others:


  Good King


  Medicine Woman

  Great Mother





  Sets objectives
  Praises successes
  Controlling influence
  Recognises effort
  Attends to detail

  Selling vision
  Strong willed
  Instils belief

  Creates Change
  Paints pictures

  Radiates warmth
  Builds Trust
  Develops others





  Set in their ways
  Lacks & discourages innovation

  Over confident
  Too opinionated
  Makes others uncomfortable
  Cold and calculating

  No pattern or order
  Not practical
  Head in the clouds
  Not a 'finisher'


  Can't make decisions
  Too inclusive
  Mediocrity and consensus are preferred




The art of delegation

Delegating isn't always easy. But if you have any reservations about delegating certain projects, consider the downside of not sharing your workload. When you try to handle too many tasks on your own, you risk:

  • burnout and producing poorer quality work.
  • you may also hold a staff member's career back by not providing enough challenging assignments for him or her to develop the skills necessary to move to the next level. 
  • you may also reduce motivation through controlling micro management and not trusting your staff.

It is good leadership practice to support and develop staff, this can only happen through by building their confidence and competence in their ability through supportive delegation.

  • Determine what to delegate.  Be specific, identify and list responsibilities that need to be assigned to others. The better the clarity of what needs to be accomplished, the more likely you'll communicate the project clearly to your co-worker or employee.
  • Match projects to staff members.  Determine which assignments would be best suited to each employee. This requires a solid understanding of the skills and knowledge of your staff or co-workers. Try to match responsibilities to each person's strengths. It's also a good idea to offer individuals projects you know they will enjoy — they will be more enthusiastic about taking on the assignment if it's something they love to do or want to learn more about.
  • Follow up. Successful delegation doesn't end after assigning the project. You need to occasionally check on the individual's progress to find out if they need additional assistance or guidance.  Remember: your role is to help remove any obstacles from the person's path, but you still need to trust them to complete the task you've assigned. In other words, it's important that you 'delegate authority' to the person and allow them to fully manage the project and make any decisions required.
  • Show appreciation. Knowing how to thank someone for a job well done is just as important as selecting the right assignments for each person. A heartfelt 'thank you' can go a long way toward motivating that individual.

The most successful leaders are those who understand their staff and know how to motivate them through trust and personal development.



  • Adair J. 2003. The Inspirational Leader: How to Motivate, encourage and achieve success. Kogan Page
  • Goleman D., Boyatzis R. McKee A.  2002. The New Leaders. Transforming the art of leadership into the science of results. London: Sphere.
  • House ER. Evaluating and Validity. Beverly Hills: Sage, 1980.
  • Olivier Mythodrama Associates Ltd 2001
  • Stewart, Rosemary 1996. 'Leadership' in Leading in the N.H.S: A Practical Guide 2nd edition MacMillan Business, Chapter one pp.3- 13.
  • Vroom VH, Yetton PW. Leadership and Decision-making. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1973.
  • Yukl G. 1994.  Leadership in Organisations. 3rd edition. Prentice Hall


                                                                     © K Enock 2006, N Leigh-Hunt 2016