Written by Mitch McCrimmon, Ph.D.
Managers are often poor at delegating. They either hold onto too much themselves, describe what needs to be done in too much detail or they micro-manage the person they delegate to. Why is delegation so difficult?
Part of the problem is that being a manager makes people feel an extraordinary level of responsibility. They also feel more visible and hence more vulnerable. In this frame of mind, delegating represents a sizeable risk for them. Also, being anxious to do well, the revert to what they know best - doing the jobs that should be delegated.
How to delegate
- Delegation is not just telling someone what to do.
- The team members you delegate to must be able to act fully in your absence.
- This means letting them think and decide for themselves.
- Fully empower people to act independently.
- Delegation is not abdication if you get regular feedback on results.
- Managers are slow to delegate because they fear no one will do the job properly.
- What's the difference between delegation and empowerment?
- Empowerment relates to larger scale culture change - it involves instituting a whole new way of working.
- Delegation refers to specific, one-off, decisions.
- It means letting someone else make decisions you normally make.
- Just giving someone tasks to do is not really delegation.
- For a specific project, decision or period, someone is your delegate.
- The challenge is to give clear direction but not too much.
- Focus on the outcome expected, the deliverable and time frame.
- Be clear on the authority and limits you are delegating.
- Is your delegate to decide only how to do a task or is there latitude on what and when?
- What support does your delegate require?
- What recourse should be taken if there are problems and under what conditions?
- What feedback do you require and how often?
- Ask open questions to verify understanding - not closed questions like 'Do you understand?'
- How would you define a satisfactory outcome?
- Are you betraying your reluctance to let go by asking for too much re-assurance?
- Don't delegate apologetically by saying '' I know you're busy, but would you mind just doing.... This makes the task sound like a burden. Try, instead to present the task as a learning opportunity for the person.
Common Barriers to Delegation
- Fear is the main reason managers are poor delegators
- They are afraid that they won't succeed unless they control everything very closely.
- They are afraid they won't be seen as contributing unless they do the most important things themselves.
- They fear the unknown, people being on top of things that they don't know anything about.
- They are afraid that others will let them down and that they will then disappoint their boss.
- They fear losing what made them successful, being great solution generators. Just being a facilitator, catalyst, coordinator and coach doesn't feel like real work to them.
- To conquer the fear of delegation, managers need to reframe their role and identity from one of solution generator to one of catalyst or facilitator. They need to get their heads around what it means to contribute in a different way.