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.
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: