Leadership optimize

Learning to let go: How to delegate effectively

While letting go may be uncomfortable to managers at first, here's a delegation dilemma plan that teaches you how and when to exercise your delegation muscles.

Learning to delegate is a skill that I, myself, am still trying to learn. It’s not that I don’t think others can do things as well as I do, it’s that I don’t think they can do things as quickly as I need them to. Taking time out to explain how to do something just adds to the timeline.

This is an attitude I need to fix, however. Delegation is a critical skill, according to ProfessionalismMatters, Inc. founder Dana Brownlee. Yet, it’s completely underutilized in the workplace.

Brownlee has found through her experiences that most leaders don’t delegate because of an emotional barrier to fear of losing control which actually ends up costing leaders more long-term. In the end, these kinds of leaders rob employees of the ability to enhance skills, communicate a lack of mistrust to others, and foster the “perfection” disease).

While “letting go” may be uncomfortable at first, Brownlee has developed a “delegation dilemma plan” that teaches leaders how and when to exercise their delegation muscles. Here are some of her tips:

  1. Start small. Don’t delegate something that is mission critical. Delegate something small (initially) and work your way up to delegating larger, more important tasks.
  2. Seek the right fit. Everything shouldn’t be on the table for delegation not just because of the importance of the task but also because some tasks are a better fit for the particular person you’re delegating to than others. This doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t stretch to develop new skills, but look for areas where they have unique ability, interest, or insight if possible. Maybe they’re a skilled web developer but never presented a new website to a client. This task, while new for them, pulls on their natural strengths as well and provides them a “confidence cushion,” so to speak.
  3. Don’t have unrealistic expectations – encourage them to put their unique footprint on the task. Remember that there is a difference between someone doing something “wrong” and them not doing it the way we would have done it. Style differences are just that. If they prefer circle bullets, and you prefer squares, keep it to yourself!
  4. Ask the recipient what level of support/communication they want. Everyone hates the micromanager who “half delegates”. Avoid this by asking them how often they want to check in with you, etc. If they propose a timetable that doesn’t provide enough feedback in your mind, ask if you can check in more frequently initially and then reduce the frequency as the task progresses.
  5. Reward effort and results. In order for others to truly learn, they need to feel that it’s OK to make mistakes. Indeed in a learning environment, effort is as important as results. If they’re stretching their abilities and trying new things, that in itself is an achievement and should be acknowledged. With increased confidence comes better results so don’t focus on results exclusively. If you’ve now conquered your fears of losing control, you must begin to help them conquer their fears as well.



About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

6 comments
Nightscribe
Nightscribe

I once had a manager who delegated an important project my way.  I was thrilled and made detailed plans on how to implement the project.  As it progressed, however, she inserted herself into each stage commenting on the correct way to do it  - to the point of sitting in on the meetings and making herself the featured speaker. Afterwards she told me she needed to approve my meeting minutes, and corrected them with a red pen and made sure I made her changes before I was authorized to distribute them.  Needless to say I didn't develop a great deal of confidence after that project, and I looked for and left for a position where the managment allowed me to actually lead the projects they assigned me.

I'm still friends with many people in that organization, and she still micro-manages every one of them.  Most are counting the days until she will retire..... 

asawa_ed
asawa_ed

I have been in IT, Cyber and Telecommunications within the US Government for the last 30 years.  Managing people is what I was trained and educated to do.  Delegation is truly a learned capability, along with all the other leadership related abilities.  It is something that I have had to do as a matter of course to get my job done.  I never thought about it as a problem to solve, or thought about how I do it.  Now that I am retiring from this position, and looking to move to something new, this information will be helpful to me.  Thank you, Toni.

bobc47
bobc47

Managing takes time to do well, if your constantly doing things then you aren't managing and your not developing your teams skills. If you can match a persons strengths with assigned tasks it usually works pretty well. As time goes on you can assign tasks outside their strengths to let people grow their skills and their confidence.

One very important point is you should always praise performance in public and chide shortfalls in private; embarrassing an employee in public is counterproductive. If a problem comes up discuss it with the person in private and come up with a solution that prevents it from happening again; that way you both walk away with a mutually agreed upon solution.

TRgscratch
TRgscratch

Does delegate mean " telling someone do something that I could have done myself" or " giving someone the authority to decide what to do, and do it, without me having to tell them"?  the former is easy; the latter, not so much

scottchapm
scottchapm

To be honest the part I don’t agree with is believing you can do everything yourself in the first place. I was once told to 'delegate, don’t abdicate' which I think is great advice but I also think there is a pressure to feel like you 'could' have done that job and 'know' how to do that job just because you are a manager. You have to be careful because this gives off the impression that you know how to do it but are letting them 'have a go'. They can and should be better than you technically but you still have to manage them. A big part of delegation is making sure you communicate the task clearly, make sure they do understand your expectations then let them do it. You can start with regular catch ups then remove them if they feel unnecessary. Make yourself available to support your staff. If the job gets done, well and on time, you understand the process and were involved in any key decisions communicating them to your management, your staff feel empowered and you are happy to do it again then you have won! and done a good job as a manager! (I think..)

muffycompoqm
muffycompoqm

Hmm...I feel you were referring to me throughout...I need to learn this too. Thank you!