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.