If there’s one thing I’ve seen managers continually struggle with, it’s delegation. It seems so simple: take something that’s on your plate, and give it to one of your team members to do.
I realize there’s more to delegation, but what makes it so difficult? Part of what makes it difficult is that delegation means giving up a level of control and accepting some risk, which then can lead to unpredictability of outcomes. Until managers get to a point where they can live with some unpredictability, then there is always going to be reluctance to delegate.
While there are a few items (like ordering lunch) that are “no brainers” to delegate, most managers struggle with delegating more important responsibilities or tasks.
Let’s discuss five potential traps.
- It’s faster to do it myself. It sure is. You know what you need, how to do it, when you need it and don’t have to explain all this to someone else. I think this is the #1 reason for not delegating. Certainly there are situations, such as emergencies, when you may just need to jump in and get something done, but think of all those other times when you could have delegated a task, and instead decided to do it yourself. What held you back? It was probably just the path of least resistance or most convenience. But—at what cost? Delegation is an investment that may have more long-term than short-term payoffs.
- No one can do it as good as I can, or I’ll just have to redo it. This trap is somewhat related to the first. Not only is it faster to do it myself, but I can do it better than anyone else. In fact, that’s probably why I was promoted to manager—because I am more proficient at certain skills or tasks than other people. All of this may be true. But if you really want to know why you were promoted to manager, it’s because someone saw in you certain abilities or skills and they want those skills to multiply throughout the organization. In other words, they want you to leverage your skills, not just keep them to yourself by doing more of the same. Any guesses as to how you leverage your skills? Bingo, it’s proper delegation, which includes providing coaching and other types of support.
- I won’t be the hero. Sometimes we don’t delegate because we like being the “hero” or being seen as an invaluable resource. If we delegate, then someone else will get the credit for a job well done. We like to feel important and needed. Managers must come to accept the necessity of interdependence, where we learn that our value as a manager is largely based on our ability to build the capabilities and visibility of the team, not solely on what we accomplish on our own.
- My team is already so busy. That may be true, but is your team’s time more valuable than yours? Are they working harder or putting in more hours than you? What are you trying to protect them from? Or, are you afraid that somebody might crack (or revolt) under the pressure? I’ve found that giving each person just a little more workload than what they thought was reasonable often helped them focus and prioritize their time and efforts better. Let the cream rise to the surface. If you agree that the team is too busy, then it may be worthwhile to ask yourself if this task you’re trying to delegate really should be done in the first place. It may also be time to prune back other activities on the team’s plate.
- My team may not stick around, so why bother? Yes, someone in which you’ve invested time and effort may move on to other things. In fact, the very reason they may move on is because you’ve developed their capabilities beyond what your current responsibilities or team needs. However, I think it is more likely that your team members will stick around if they believe that you’re willing to take a chance on them and delegate opportunities that they might not have had elsewhere. Regardless, take solace in the fact that you will have left a legacy they won’t forget as a great manager who believed in them and took reasonable risks.
Once you recognize that you’re falling into these familiar traps, then it’s time to do something about it. Take a hard look at where your time is going and what you’re directly involved with.
Be strategic in what you are delegating. Ask yourself if others could benefit or learn from a specific delegation opportunity. Take a critical look at what you’re delegating and not delegating. It’s one thing to delegate a “task” and another to delegate overall ownership or responsibility for a larger project or initiative. Look for places where you can give up some “control” and perhaps live with less predictable outcomes. As you look back on the results, you may find yourself asking “why didn’t I do this sooner?”