Delegating is a skill that is somewhat difficult to develop at first. After all, most of us have become successful by working hard, working even harder when necessary, and exercising great self-control in many aspects of our lives. As we become leaders, our natural tendency is to continue to do what has made us successful. But when we hoard all the control, or perhaps worse, when we try to control others, it backfires big time.
Why should I delegate?
- You can’t do everything; delegating frees up your time
- When you quit worrying about details, it allows you to do more strategic work
- It is very likely that someone else can do it better
- Performance and value—highly paid people should not be doing low-skill work
- Career development for your team—they will hone their skills by doing the work
Why don’t we delegate?
- We don’t have time, there is a due date on short notice, and we can do it faster
- We are still responsible for the results and want to make sure they are good
- We haven’t helped our team develop the skills necessary to handle the task
- We have a hard time with setting expectations and holding people accountable for results
- We don’t trust our team (ouch!)
Delegating—You’re Doing it Wrong
- Delegating, but then continuing to control responsibility and authority is micromanaging.
- On the other end of the spectrum, abdicating responsibility by delegating is a lack of leadership.
When delegating, you must give up just enough control, but you can never step away from being held accountable.
One way to do this is to relinquish all the control but maintain liability. Abdicating authority by delegating is a decentralized, non-hierarchical approach to leadership. This modern way of doing things can work very well, especially in cases where the individual contributors of the team are also the subject matter experts, as is often the case in IT, consulting and customer service. If you have an experienced, highly skilled team, you may be more effective the less you meddle. Allow your team to choose their projects, manage their own time, and give them latitude to make decisions and take action without consulting you first. Encourage leaderless groups and allow leaders to naturally emerge. Do keep in mind that if something should go wrong, they are responsible but so are you.
Of course, delegating effectively means that this is not the approach to take in all situations. High-risk or high-stakes projects may need several eyes to check for errors. New employees need more guidance than more experienced ones. Low and middle-performers will need some input from you as well. For these situations, you can take a more directive approach to delegating. Rather than delegating an entire project or complete decision-making authority, you can delegate chunks of tasks that are designed with built-in check-in points that allows you to influence the outcome. Then use those check-in points to have coaching conversations where you can observe and develop your employees’ critical thinking skills.
Here are a few examples of how you can use directive delegating as a coaching opportunity to develop your employee’s critical thinking skills and their capacity for greater responsibility projects in the future:
- Delegate repetitive tasks. Show them how it is done now but give latitude for process improvement as they become acquainted.
- Delegate a fact-finding mission. When you receive the report, ask for recommendations about next steps. Later, close the loop by informing your employee about what actions you decided to take and why.
- Delegate the creation of a plan of action. When you receive the timeline of action items, you will have the ability to approve it or make changes.
- Delegate action, but ask that they notify you prior to acting. This will allow you to step in and prevent an error or mistake.
- Delegate action, and ask that they notify of the action taken after acting. This is very close to abdicating authority, but the hierarchical structure remains.