Delegation – It’s Not What You Think

by Oct 31, 2019Leadership

Over and over again, executives, managers and team leaders express that they are over-whelmed, over-scheduled, and just plain, over it.

Every possible reason, real or imagined is given for their situation. Often people express deep unhappiness and even anxiety about their workload while simultaneously resisting changes that might lead to improvement. These leaders, smart and talented though they may be, are stuck. Well-meaning advisors often tell them to delegate, prioritize, simplify, etc. They offer up all manner of tactical tools that may provide some help but most fail to understand the multiple causes of the person being stuck in the first place. The generic bromides are focused entirely on behavior, ignoring both mindset and context. This is why so many planners end up in the trash, literal or electronic. 

Done well it benefits the person delegating, the one receiving the delegation and the organization of which they are a part. Here are the essential elements:

If delegation is to succeed, the person to whom a responsibility is delegated, needs to be:

  • Sound. Do they have a strong sense of achievement and responsibility?
  • Ready to learn. They don’t need to be competent to achieve the objectives without help, but they need to be candid, with themselves and others about the limits of their ability.
  • Eager. Someone who is ready and willing to stretch themselves. 
  • Accountable. Cover-up artists need not apply. Someone who can both take credit for good results and accountability for missteps, deserves to be guided, taught, mentored and encouraged.

Once a person has been identified, too many leaders simply let go. They may say things like “I’ll support you” or “I’m here for you” but rarely is there any conversation about what that actually means in practical terms.  

Delegation is not only a path for leaders to reduce their workload. Share on X

To improve the odds that delegation will succeed, the leader can:

  • Be clear about the objectives. It’s very common for leaders to have an image of success that is conceptual and sometimes, hard to express. They may assume that others understand what they are thinking. This not a conscious belief, nor is it usually born of malice, but it interferes with their ability to make delegation work, nonetheless. Take into account organizational context.
  • Ask themselves if the organization grants credibility to the person the leader has chosen to receive delegation. If so, the leader needs to affirm their designee in the role. If not, the leader needs to provide it by offering visible, clear, relevant, affirmation. This is not the time to assume that others know the reasons – it’s time to tell it in a manner that is clear, logical, credible and sincere
  • Truly let go! Avoid allowing others to do “end runs” and don’t step in the minute something doesn’t go exactly as you would have it. Too often, leaders who take back authority, decision-making, or processes from others are doing it to relieve their own anxiety. That has a temporary, but powerful psychological reward and is the cause of many failed hand offs.

Delegation is not only a path for leaders to reduce their workload. A more powerful reason to hand off tasks to others is to ensure that the capacity of the organization expands. While it may seem like that is a sacrifice, it isn’t. Leaders who increase the capability of others and improve an organization’s ability to deliver results are the most valuable of all.

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