Home Phone

The Delegators Dilemma – insights on how to delegate well

Delegation is an art that takes time to learn and time to execute. The dilemma is that leaders lack time, it is their scarcest resource. Too many leaders get trapped in a cycle of too much to do and too little time, surrounded by people who behave just like them. Sound familiar…?

Inevitably there comes a point when they realise that the excuse of ‘it’s quicker if I just do it myself’ does not help resolve the issues they face. It really is an admission that they have not yet learned the art of delegation.

Why Not Delegate? If you find delegation difficult, reflect on why you feel this way. What stops you delegating? Push past the first few answers that spring immediately to mind and reflect on why you do not delegate? Rationally, I’m sure you know, hanging on to your work tasks makes you feel ‘involved’ but you are not really ‘essential’. Such habitual behaviour will trap you on the Operational Treadmill.

The temptation to keep on doing your old job is understandably attractive, it is after all familiar and safe. It will certainly keep you busy, but it’s not why you got promoted.

This personal reflection is important as the art of delegation starts with a mindset shift. Leaders must develop the people they have under their stewardship, otherwise they stay in post too long. Effective delegation is one of the key ways of achieving your own future promotion. The key is to realise that, absent the art of delegation, the tasks you have to do will simply keep on growing until they become overwhelming. This is the road to burn out, insomnia and ill health.

One of the insights I have discovered from coaching over the years is that certain leadership styles find delegation easier than others. The action focused extravert leaders have a tendency to delegate tasks quite readily, to the point that they can be accused of excess delegation or ‘abdication’ at times.

Conversely, the introverted, thinking leaders can be accused of hardly ever delegating as they fear the outcome will not meet their high exacting standards.

Whatever your leadership style the need for delegation never goes away.

How to Delegate well. Start with the ‘Why’ If you want someone to care about what you are asking them to do they need to understand why you are asking them to do it. Give them a context, what’s at stake, how the task fits into the bigger picture, what development opportunity it presents to them, etc.

Then move into the ‘What’ you want them to do. This needs to be specific and cover off the key elements that define success, namely:

  • Time – how long have they got to do this task?
  • Volume – how much effort do you envisage they should put into doing it?
  • Quality – what your expectations are for the outcome of the task
  • Resources – what they can spend or resources they can access to help them complete the task.

Note the one element that is missing is the ‘How’ to do the task. Avoid telling them your views on this as you want to invite new thinking and encourage personal development. Simply telling them how you do the task will almost guarantee that you will be disappointed. If they try to copy the way you do your tasks of course they will fall short of your expectations. After all they are not as experienced as you at being you!

A key thing to remember is that you are delegating responsibility for the task. You remain accountable so remember to be available. Agree engagement levels appropriate to the task so you show you care without being a micro-manager. This is a judgment call on your behalf and is dependant on both the task being delegated and the personality preferences of the person you are delegating to.

Why Bother? There is a growing body of evidence that effective delegation increase the productivity of those you lead, it improves their morale and their engagement. As a result it can nudge the culture of the area you are responsible for in a positive way. It is also the only way you are going to get promoted as I mentioned earlier in the piece, developing those who work for you is a key requirement for progress with your career.

Finally consider this. If you want to go fast go alone. If you want to go far, bring others along with you. Put another way, if you want to do a lot of small things really well, then do them yourself. However, if you want to do great things and really make an impact then learn how to delegate well.

The choice is yours, so choose wisely.

If you want to discuss the art of delegation and how this relates to your specific situation then why not book a Smart Mirror Coaching session which can focus on the unique challenges you face in this area.