The difficulty of Delegating (properly)

As you might recall I have written various articles on the perils of micromanagement in the past. Many times managers or business leaders who tend to be micromanagers, find it very difficult to delegate and to do so effectively. So, why is delegating so difficult and how can it be done properly?

I see this situation being replayed before me time and time again. Managers, business leaders and financial controllers that have way too much to do, literally buried in work and it seems there’s no way out from under it all. But there is: delegation. They do know about delegation and its importance and how it can save them time and help others develop new skills. So why aren’t they doing it?

Delegation is a critical skill and like any other skill, it needs the right mindset to be able to practice it. Many do not realise that they are unnecessarily hoarding work. There are warning signs, however. A classic sign of insufficient delegation is a manager is working long hours and feel totally indispensable, while the staff reporting to him/her aren’t energised and work regular hours. As a manager, you may think your team doesn’t take ownership over tasks and that you’re the only one that cares. Is that really true?

There are plenty of reasons why managers don’t delegate. Some are perfectionists who feel it’s easier to do everything themselves. Others believe that passing on work will detract from their own importance, while others lack self-confidence and don’t want to be upstaged by their subordinates. All these things take more importance than being efficient and respecting timelines.

As a manager or business leader, you need to proactively ask yourself what you’re going to do to counterbalance the above mentioned tendencies. What is the route cause that is bringing about this non-delegating behaviour and how can this behaviour be changed? In reality, very few people know what to change or how to change it. One simple way if to keep track on how you spend your time. You’re likely to find that a lot of your time is spent on low value activities that can be delegated.

Some managers fear delegation because they’ve been burned in the past. It’s important that you pass on work to people who have the necessary skills and are motivated to get the job done right. Ideally, you should be able to delegate some form of work to everyone on your team. If you push work as far down the hierarchy as possible, you will free up time and help all your staff members grow.

Delegation shouldn’t be yet another task. It should be part of the way you operate. After you delegate, your job as a manager is to observe and support your direct reports, not dictate what they do. Micromanaging defeats the whole purpose. However, do not exaggerate. Do not be hands off. You still need to be in a position to evaluate their performance on a task you delegated and so don’t walk away from a task you’ve delegated. Stay involved but let your team member lead the way. Most importantly make sure you communicate well with you team members both when delegating and also afterwards – communicate about the importance and timelines of the task, communicate lessons you learned in the past when you did the task, communicate the rationale behind the task and what it will be used for. Communicating well will increase the chance that the delegated task will be performed well.

Once you’ve started delegating more, pay attention to the results and learn from your mistakes. Ask yourself: How you can I tweak my approach? Can I delegate more tasks? Should I give my direct reports more freedom? Do I need to monitor progress more closely? Be patient with yourself while you practice. Remember you are shifting from “I’m going to do everything because I know better than everyone” mindset to “I’m going to delegate and let people learn. It may take time, but the payoff is great.

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