Delegating can be a struggle for many leaders. I see it quite often with the leaders I coach or train. One of my clients is a capable and talented leader who knows her stuff. She is often sidetracked when a team member comes to her with a challenge they can’t seem to solve. As they discuss the problem, she usually figures out a solution. Since she knows how to solve it, she says to the team member, “I will do it, and you can continue to work on the other project.” She repeats this at least once a week with members of her team. She wants her team to be productive and not bogged down with issues. She feels good because they can work on things they are familiar with. This makes sense to her. Except she is becoming extremely busy and not able to complete her own work because of the additional tasks she is taking on. She is beginning to feel burned out.
This scenario is a common leadership trap. By accepting others’ tasks, even if they are small, leaders add to their already full workload. Ultimately, their workloads get bigger and the employee’s gets smaller.
Thoughtful delegation is the key to help in this situation. One definition of delegation is allocating the right work to the right people. Giving away work is delegation. Accepting work from someone, transferring it to someone else and guiding them complete the work is also delegation. Delegating involves both allocating a task and the decision-making responsibilities and accountability to complete it.
One benefit of delegation is it can increase the team member’s commitment, accelerate results, and build their capability. This aspect of delegation is about the engagement and growth of the team. It helps people learn new skills and approaches to solve challenges. Think of delegating as being about others and not about you as a leader.
There are many things that might hold a leader back from delegating. For example:
- A leader may not trust their team because they think team members are not ready. When will they be ready if not given a chance to grow? Leaders need to find ways to build the capacity of their teams, and delegating is one way.
- A leader might not want to see someone struggling with learning a new task. Or they think of this person as a friend, and they don’t want them to have a hard time.
- A leader may enjoy working on the details of the business. They are good at it, and they may have been promoted because of it. They may feel like they are not doing their job if they give it to someone else.
However, the pay-off for an employee who figures out a new skill nor challenge is huge. They feel empowered because they are making decisions, learning new competencies and can accomplish new tasks. Employees often feel more satisfied in their roles when they have more authority, which means they’ll be less likely to leave. Most employees can thrive in an environment where they have more freedom to grow, and this leads to advancement. Delegating is not a sink or swim situation where a task is handed off and that’s it. Support and guidance should be involved.
Consider these types of issues before delegating:
- What is the desired output? How will you know whether it is completed?
- What’s the importance of the task?
- Are you including the authority necessary for the task?
- To whom should the task be delegated?
- How will you learn of their progress?
- How will you give feedback during the process?
- How will you determine the results?
Once a leader has decided to delegate a task and to whom, it doesn’t end there. The leader can provide coaching and give mentoring. Using questions to help the team members think though the task helps build their knowledge. It also gives you a sense of what role you can play. Asking questions such as:
- How do you think you could solve it?
- What will you need to do that?
- Who else might be able to help you?
- When do you want feedback on your progress?
Finally, there are three considerations to keep in mind with delegating.
A benefit of delegation is growing the skills of your team members. This is probably the most important one. A team member who has learned something new is a benefit to themselves, the company and you. Stretching someone builds their capability and confidence.
Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. You gave the task and have to be willing to accept a result that is not necessarily perfect or exactly as you might have done it. It might even be better than what you would have done. You can give constructive feedback for any rework, if it is needed, before the task is marked as complete. Or you can provide resources to make it better.
Who can help? This is a coaching question and it can help the employee broaden their thinking to build more cohesion and collaboration on their team or within the company. Take the time to help them consider and begin to ask people. This can help them build a larger network.
Delegation can be hard because it is not just a handoff. It should come with support, guidance and feedback. The long-term benefits can outweigh the initial planning and time to delegate, as compared to you doing all the work late at night. And you as the leader will now have more time to be a leader and focus on business growth, strategy and innovation.
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