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Ladder of Leadership Delegation

This model suggests a gradual approach to delegation. Leaders begin by closely supervising tasks and gradually move up the ladder, giving team members more autonomy as their skills and confidence grow. The origins of this model are hard to trace, and there are some variations with up to 10 rungs on the ladder.
The Ladder of Leadership Delegation is a concept that illustrates the different levels of involvement a leader can have when delegating tasks to team members. This ladder metaphorically represents the range of delegation approaches, from highly directive to highly empowering. The model encourages leaders to adjust their level of involvement based on the competence and development of their team members as well as the nature of the task.
The ladder typically consists of five rungs, each representing a different delegation style:

  • Tell - At this level, the leader provides explicit instructions and tells the team member exactly what to do. This approach is suitable for tasks that are new to the team member(s) or when they lack the necessary skills to complete the task independently.
  • Sell - The leader not only provides instructions but also explains the rationale and benefits behind the task. This approach is useful when the team member may be hesitant or uncertain about the task's importance or purpose.
  • Consult - The leader seeks input from the team member(s) before making a decision. This approach encourages two-way communication and can be effective when the team member(s) has some knowledge or expertise related to the task.
  • Agree - The leader and team member(s) collaborate to reach a joint decision on how the task will be accomplished. This approach is useful when the team member(s) has a high level of competence and can contribute valuable insights.
  • Delegate - At the highest level of the ladder, the leader entrusts the task to the team member(s) and allows them to make their own decisions. The leader provides support and guidance as needed but gives the team member(s) significant autonomy.
The Ladder of Leadership Delegation recognises that effective leaders adapt their approach to delegation based on their team members' skills, experience, and development. As team members grow and become more capable, leaders should aim to move up the ladder, granting more autonomy and responsibility.
The key to the successful implementation of this model is understanding the readiness and capabilities of each team member, as well as the complexity and significance of the task. This approach fosters a collaborative and empowering work environment that supports team members' growth and engagement while achieving optimal task outcomes.
For more on the topic of delegation, view our article 7 Models for Delegation.
Trevor O'Sullivan

Trevor O'Sullivan

General Manager. Since the early 2000s, Trevor has worked with thousands of Talent Management professionals to develop and apply assessment-based talent management solutions for selecting, developing and managing people. Trevor is an active member of the TTI Success Insights (TTISI) Global Advisory Council, contributes to TTISI product development and is a regular presenter at TTISI-R3. He is honoured to have received multiple Blue Diamond Awards and, more recently, the Bill Brooks Impact Award recognising his contributions to the TTISI global network.

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