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The Art and Science of Delegation

Do you ever feel like this?

The art and science of delegation

Do you get anxious about entrusting your team with tasks you currently manage yourself?

When you do happen to pass on work to direct reports, do you fret and worry about the quality of work which may (or may not) be produced?

Does relinquishing control make you feel uneasy most of the time?

If you answered yes to any of the questions above, chances are you are experiencing a  block with delegation.

Delegation, if mastered, is one of the most liberating and expansive leadership tools to have in your toolkit.

Effective delegation means sharing responsibility and accountability. Trusting others to perform. And letting direct reports have some say in what gets delegated and how that work is carried out.

Bad delegation, or lack thereof, leads to a mess of anxiety, inefficiency and frustration.

We all know delegation is beneficial (a bit like exercise) but so often we don’t do it.

Why is this?

Here are the two main reasons why we don’t delegate:

1.      It takes a lot more time and effort up front.  Have you ever found yourself saying, “it’s just quicker and easier if I do it myself?”  Whilst this is true, it’s a short term solution that perpetuates the ‘rut’. Investing in delegation enables more time for vital leadership tasks such as strategy, decision making, and coaching.

2.      Relinquishing control. One of my clients even recently admitted to literally feeling a tight knot in their chest every time they thought of giving away certain work to their team.  Examine your own relationship with control.

What makes you anxious about handing over work?
What will help to lower your anxiousness?
If you don’t believe in the capability of your team, why?
What needs to happen to change this?

So what are some tips to help you get better at this delegation lark?

1.      Delegate smartly –  for development and team effectiveness. This is not about dumping stuff you hate doing. Work out what areas you need to keep (strategy, for example) and what areas you could delegate (i.e. a task which is repetitive and not the best use of your time).

Involve each team member in this decision. Ask, what areas of my job could you help me with? Where do you need to develop further? This is also a great way to incorporate focus from their development plan.

2.      Start with a clear picture of what success is. Get them to feed back to you what the ideal outcome looks like. Ensure clarity on the end game, expectations and time frames.

One of the biggest problems with delegation starts right at the beginning when delivering the work to the person. Good questions can include:

How will we know when we have achieved our goal?
What checkpoints will we put in place along the way?
On what aspects will you consult with me before making decisions?
What feedback loops do we need to put in place?
What aspects of this task do you feel the most anxious about?

3.      Get out of the way. A common mistake we make is to go through the motions of delegation and then do what I call “the hover”. If step one has been completed properly, you can then get out of their way.

If you have the parameters in place, this is a great opportunity for the ‘delegatee’ to experiment, learn and try a few things out. Heck, even make some mistakes.

4.      Have realistic expectations regarding time and skill. Think about the first time you did this task. Chances are you were not as skilled and fast as you are now. Build in realistic time frames and set expectations for learners.

5.      Review. After the work has been completed ensure you both sit down together and review what worked, what didn’t, what you both learned. This review is the perfect opportunity for a coaching session.

Andrew Carnegie, the Scottish-American industrialist who led the enormous expansion of the American steel industry in the late 19th century, once said:-

“No man will make a great leader who wants to do it all himself or get all the credit for doing it.” 

Except for adding, “or woman” to this quote, I couldn’t agree more!

So, start delegating today – and tell me what you notice.

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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