Let go. Let others do.
Delegating is one of the most challenging leadership behaviors.
Some say the delegation challenge is limited to new managers; however, it could appear at any level in the organization or at any time in one’s career.
Common Delegator Inhibitors
There are various reasons people leaders hesitate to delegate work to others:
- There are some things they love to do, so they hold on, although doing so does not support their new responsibilities.
- The perception is that no one else can do the work as well as they, so “do it yourself” is the preferred choice.
- It takes too much time and effort to explain, train, and transition the responsibility to someone else.
- If the one doing the work makes a mistake, it is a personal blemish and a reflection of the people leader’s capabilities.
- They cannot say “no” – conscious of being seen as selfish or not a team player.
- They decide the person they could delegate to already has too much work and is too busy.
- Being in the hub of “doing” is a power source, remaining the “go-to” for knowledge and troubleshooting.
Delegation and Priority Management
Getting to effective delegation begins with priority management.
Inventorying and mapping responsibilities to the Eisenhower Matrix quadrants spotlights the highest and best use of your time. Tasks identified as Important – Not Urgent may be well-suited for engaging a protégée or an identified successor in supporting you with this work. Likewise, there may be an opportunity to have these individuals shadow you when performing your Important – Urgent duties. Doing so invests in rising talent and mitigates the risk of becoming indispensable, which could eventually stifle your career advancement.
Key delegation opportunities are duties identified as Not Important – Urgent. Aligning these duties to a team member who either has or can develop the skills and abilities to do the work is a viable option to redirect you to critical activities.
Appropriately delegating tasks frees you to focus on higher-value activities while positioning employees for active engagement. Research indicates that organizations with teams in the top tier of employee engagement have 23% higher profitability (Gallup 2022).
The key to delegating work is getting started, as action leads to a change in mindset.
“If you’re having trouble delegating to your employees, remember that the best definition of a good leader is the same as the chemical definition of a catalyst. A catalyst causes things to happen without itself being used up. If you don’t delegate, you’ll soon be ‘used up.’”– Joe Mann
The following are delegation reminders:
Think Me First.
First, identify the responsibilities you must retain for yourself.
Define the Work.
Clearly define the work before delegation happens. The definition includes what to delegate, the purpose (why) of the activity, its connection to overall business goals, the desired outcomes, timelines, authority associated with the activity, and communication and check-in expectations.
Weigh the Cost-Benefit.
Explore the cost-benefit of engaging someone to do the work; think beyond the initial time commitment that could involve training and coaching.
Determine the other(s) to execute the responsibilities beyond those you must keep for yourself.
Ask – Don’t Presume.
Speak with the team member. Discover if the individual is motivated to perform the activity, has strengths that align with the task, and if they have the requisite knowledge, skills, and capabilities (or can be trained and developed to perform the duty).
Communicate the defined work. Delegate the responsibility, authority, and partial accountability for the work you are engaging others to do. As the leader, you have overall accountability for achieving the goals, while the person receiving the work is accountable for completing their assigned portion.
Be patient and ready to train, coach, and mentor your team member. Discuss and agree upon planned touchpoints for a mutual information exchange. For example, you can coach the team member through their learning curve. Likewise, invite the team member to share insights about what you could do more, better, or differently as you delegate work to others.
On the Radar
Watch for tendencies that could impede successful delegation, such as:
- Having the team member take action only after a check-in consultation.
- Giving detailed instructions with constant oversight.
- Redoing a team member’s work to reflect one’s personal preferences.
- Not providing a margin for failure that allows for learning.
While delegation is not always natural or easy, it is essential in becoming the most impactful leader you can be at the level of leadership you envision.
Delegation is also an essential element of practicing self-care that has long- and short-term benefits. You position yourself for the marathon, not just the sprint.