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Delegate, coach and prioritize: The key behaviors of a successful leader

Jan 10, 2023

Effective delegation, coaching and prioritization form a continuum when it comes to successful leadership. In a related article, we stressed the importance of delegating responsibilities. Here are the next steps in the continuum. You’ve delegated, but you must still coach and prioritize.

Coaching is key

Coaching plays a critical role in establishing the right leadership behaviors. When you lead others, you need to focus on level-appropriate activities. And you need to spend a disproportionate amount of your time developing those who report to you, not working as an individual contributor.

Constructive coaching — where you facilitate the right types of insights and developmental conversations by asking good, open-ended questions — is a critical part of this time investment.

Similarly, helping our direct reports evaluate and execute their priorities is a natural extension of these activities. In addition, it requires them to engage with level-appropriate priorities, and that we spend sufficient time in helping them execute these tasks.

Your direct reports are not necessarily in a position to understand the broad strategic objectives of the organization. Typically, individual contributors don’t have the line of sight necessary to evaluate and translate organizational objectives into work tasks. This responsibility falls upon the leader; and it is an essential leadership behavior. In its absence, strategic goals have no way of becoming actionable — and therefore achievable.

Your company’s leaders may spend weeks developing strategic goals, but if you fail to translate these goals into actionable items for your team, you prevent them from being accomplished.

Additionally, if you successfully translate those objectives into key priorities for your team but fail to hold them accountable for the achievement of those priorities, you directly contribute to the organization’s failure to achieve its stated goals. Leading without holding reports accountable equals not leading.

Prioritizing is essential

As a leader, you must master the task of balancing not only your priorities but those of your direct reports. After all, their success is your success.

Evaluating and acting on priorities is perhaps the most basic, essential task of our workplace lives. How do we determine what deserves our attention? How do we prioritize tasks and establish which item to tackle first? How do we keep track of priorities and ensure they are completed? And who holds us accountable for their completion?

Without taking ownership away from the individual, it is a leader’s responsibility to help set priorities with direct reports and hold them accountable for their execution. Successful leaders embody this method. More than simply doling out a shopping list of objectives, setting priorities requires you to successfully translate the core strategic goals of the organization into meaningful tasks for your team. You must also ensure that team members participate and learn from this function evaluating priorities provides a great coaching moment for you and your reports.

Get the basics right

While it may seem somewhat basic to establish priorities for your direct reports, few leaders successfully perform all facets of this process. This is largely due to a managing versus leading mentality.

Managing a set of ongoing priorities requires relatively little energy, but a hallmark of active leadership includes ensuring that priorities reflect larger organizational objectives, guiding direct reports to fully participate in goal creation and making sure reports are held accountable for their proper execution.

Coaching your reports around their priorities creates a strong developmental conversation and increases their sense of engagement with both the work and with the organization.

So, make time for your team and engage in healthy discussions of key objectives. Ensuring that they are working on the right objectives, and that they are held accountable for their outcomes, means you add measurable value to the organization as a leader and that your reports experience firsthand the value of this leadership.

Setting objectives and creating accountability

True leading entails both setting the goals and holding your team member accountable for achieving them. This takes tremendous focus and energy, and you should clearly see by now why delegation and coaching are essential behaviors of good leadership. You don’t have time to work on tasks that are not helping your direct reports to achieve their objectives, and you must invest time in ensuring reports are coached and supported around the achievement of these objectives.

Setting objectives and creating accountability absolutely requires good coaching. Direct reports who share in the responsibility of evaluating and prioritizing their goals develop professionally and better understand the impact they make. In short, telling someone what to do is never as effective as creating a shared learning space that invites them to participate in the creation of their priorities and their inherent accountability.

Setting goals offers an excellent developmental exercise, as it provides you — the leader — the opportunity to tie together the work goals of the individual with their broader developmental needs, as well as providing a means of evaluating their performance against mutually understood and agreed-upon objectives.

This is extremely important when we think about how best to evaluate our employees and gauge their progress. If you haven’t established their objectives, solicited their buy-in and created a clear timeline for completion to establish accountability, what criteria are you using to evaluate their performance?

How do you know if they are effective or ineffective as employees? How do you reward their performance or evaluate and tackle deficiencies? As effective delegation and coaching leads to setting priorities and creating accountability with your direct reports, this evaluative process is a natural next step in the leadership continuum.

Transform your leaders

In today’s competitive landscape, leadership on every level is paramount. Are your leaders equipped to navigate the complexities you face? Are your leaders and business strategies in lockstep?

With Wipfli’s Leadership Essentials, they will be. Our program is meticulously crafted to transform supervisors from capable to exceptional. Our team connects leadership training to measurable outcomes, using validated assessments, action plans and reinforcement techniques. Learn more about Leadership Essentials.

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Jennifer Mackin
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