Directing: Accomplishing objectives through delegation and motivation

In previous Management Matters, we have discussed to varying degrees the four principles of management. Because they serve as the foundation of the tasks that you perform as a manager, let's quickly review what the four principles are and what each encompasses as it relates to a manager.

  • Planning - Basically during operational planning, a manager will decide how to implement the organization's strategic plan by establishing objectives, devising a course of action to accomplish the plan, determining appropriate measurements that will reflect the progress, and setting a schedule for accomplishing the plan.

  • Organizing - While organizing, the manager is getting his or her hands around three important elements - the work, the people, and the workplace.

  • Controlling - When the plan is implemented and the work begins, the manager should have a system in place that will measure how well things are going. The measurement system will help the manager maintain control.

  • Directing - Directing implies dealing exclusively with people. A manager learns to delegate responsibility to competent people by explaining to and motivating others to accomplish the required tasks.

Performing each of the four principles is important to a manager's success; however, the focus of our attention for this Management Matters is directing.

Most of us would agree that doing something yourself in many cases is easier than getting someone else to do it. Managers who used their skills for many years as technicians often know how to do tasks as well, if not better, than those they manage. In a case like this, the natural tendency would be to take the short cut and perform the task yourself.

What is the problem if a manager pursues this route more often than not? Other than the obvious, which is the manager is not applying one of the basic principles of management, directing; the less obvious is the longer-term effect it has on the organization. First, the technicians that do not know how to do the tasks will not develop their skills as rapidly. This exposes the organization to an eventual risk that could eventually affect the quality of the work performed and cause a reduction in productivity. Less-trained and experienced technicians will take longer to complete a given amount of tasks.

Second, the manager is not leveraging his or her knowledge by sharing his or her experience. Can you get more work done if two people know how to do a task rather than one? In all of my years spent interacting with maintenance departments, I've never heard anyone complain that they have too much time on their hands. Not surprisingly, it's the exact opposite. If indeed that's the case then having the ability to direct others extends the manager's capabilities and knowledge.

I'd like to emphasize one point before I move on. This is for the managers that insist on keeping information "close to the vest", because you perceive that it makes you more important to the organization. You know the creed by which you operate: the person that holds the information maintains control. Stop it! There are other ways to maintain control. Besides by keeping that attitude, you are not fulfilling your role as a manager and you are hurting your organization.

As a manager, if working through others is so important then how do you become efficient at directing? First of all, let's recognize what you are really doing when you are directing. Actually, you are delegating. By delegating, you are shifting the performance of the tasks to someone else. However, the responsibility for getting the work done and done correctly has not. That still falls to you. Without going into detail, as this subject is worthy of its own article, listed below are some of the major points that you might want to keep in mind when delegating.

  • Select the right person. The person should have the necessary technical skills to perform the task and the maturity to handle the responsibility.

  • Clearly define the task that needs to be performed. Two-way communication is important so that you have a good feeling that the person has a clear understanding of the task. By having a conversation, you may also learn that what is clear to you, may not be clear to the other person. It doesn't matter what your perception is, if you want the task accomplished.

  • Set a schedule for completion and some form of measurement that will keep you apprised of the progress of the task. Depending upon the complexity and nature of the task, the measurement can be as simple as periodic conversations or more complex to keep track of multiple tasks and their related deadlines.

  • Assign authority. It is not enough to assign the task. You must also give the person performing the task the necessary authority to get the task done. Few things are more frustrating than being assigned a task without the accompanying authority.

  • Focus on the results. When it's possible worry more about what is getting accomplished than how it is being accomplished. Of course, there are situations where one method is the only method. By focusing more on the results, opportunity exists for a more efficient method to develop.

If delegating is an important part of the management principle called directing, then how a manager chooses to direct must also be important. In other words, how will the manager interact with or delegate to those that work for him or her. There are two aspects of the manager that relate to directing.


Inherent in any management position is some degree of authority. As the principle of directing implies, a manager's position will have other people reporting to it, therefore the manager has some level of authority. The organization's structure and position description more clearly define the level of authority. An organizational chart, which illustrates the structure of the organization, will display the chain of command or in other words illustrate who reports to whom. The position description should state in a greater level of detail, the responsibilities and related authority of a position. Other company documents may further define the level of authority of each position.

Federal regulations also identify the level of authority within the structure of an organization and its maintenance department, especially for the director of maintenance. Without an intimate knowledge of the regulations, I would be willing to guess that while the regulations may not directly state the level of authority, they certainly imply the authority by identifying the director of maintenance position's responsibilities.

If you have the authority as a manager to direct the activities of those that work for you, how do you choose to apply your authority? One way is to tell, dictate, or mandate to those that work for you. Using this method, you choose to rely upon the authority of your position to get tasks accomplished. Notice that nothing is mentioned about asking, two-way communication, or dialogue. You, in this case, have chosen to be authoritative or act as a dictator.

In some situations, this method is appropriate. For example, if you are in a situation that demands immediate attention and the time for discussion is not available, then the authoritarian style is a good choice. Or if your maintenance group does a certain type of inspection frequently, then due to the group's experience, prior planning, and discussion, a more authoritarian approach is effective. Or you may have deadlines to meet and exerting your influence is the most effective approach.

However, over the long term, this method of directing is probably not your most effective method for a couple of reasons. People receive, process, and feed back information differently. Stated more simply, people are different. Because of this small fact about people, the authoritarian approach does not fit all. If you want to get the most out of your people different approaches are advisable.

A second reason the authoritarian approach is not recommended is that you or your organization may not be getting the benefit of ideas that might lead to improvements or a more efficient use of your organization's resources. Even the frequently performed inspections occasionally require a periodic review to determine if you are using your resources appropriately. If you have not created the environment for communication then improvements are not likely to occur because you are not the person that is closest to the actual work.

A third reason the authoritarian approach is not advisable is, who wants to work for a dictator? It's probably a pretty safe statement that even you wouldn't want to work for that type of person. And, the style wears down those that work for you to the point where they almost become robots. They will do exactly as you tell them and nothing more.


If exerting your authority is only appropriate some of the time, then what other approach might work? Why not try managing by leading? Leadership changes all of the negative reasons mentioned earlier into positives for your organization. You should get more production from your people, who will also generate better ideas and solutions for problems that you face.

What is the major difference between managing based upon authority vs. leadership? I'm used to following the answer to that with a question. If you didn't have the title or the corresponding ability to punish or reward, could you still get your people to produce the results? In short, a leader could. Authority comes with the position. Leadership is a skill.

If leadership is a skill, then the implication is that you can learn how to lead. What are some common attributes of a leader?

  • Know where you want to go. Set goals. If you are going to lead, you must know your destination.

  • Establish your standards. It's not enough to know where you are going; you must also demonstrate how to get there. You must have integrity and ethics. You establish the standard for those that you are leading. By setting the example, those that follow know the parameters to guide their behavior.

  • Communicate clearly. You may be able to lead through your actions but the final destination will remain unclear if you cannot clearly communicate your goals and the means (how) by which you plan to get there.

  • Listen. While your ability to communicate is important, the second piece to the communication process is listening. Leadership implies that someone is being led. People show a willingness to follow when they believe they are part of the solution or process. In essence they have a sense of ownership. If you do not listen to ideas, then leading will become more difficult.

  • Permit dissent. If you are truly looking for the best solution, then you will allow people to express opposing viewpoints. If you do not establish this environment, then you begin to migrate toward the authoritarian style of management. Without dissent, you begin to develop "yes" people.

  • Criticize constructively. If you are trying to accomplish a goal or task through the actions of others, then you must keep those people interested and motivated. If you experience a problem or setback, then criticize to correct the problem, not to destroy the person. In most situations, it is best to criticize privately. No one likes to be reprimanded in front of his or her peers.

  • Maintain your neutrality. As a leader you will be asked to evaluate performance, resolve conflicts, and remain flexible due to changing conditions. To accomplish your goals, you must remain objective and be viewed as such by your people.

Remember as a manager, you should accomplish many of your objectives through the actions of the people that you manage. You must accomplish your objectives as efficiently as possible due to the limited amount of resources in your organization. Recognize that working through others requires you to delegate using your inherent authority and your leadership skills. Different situations require different techniques. Use what works best for you and your organization. AMT