The Art and Benefits of Delegating
Over the years I have found that new leaders often struggle with managing their workload.
Too busy and not enough time in the day, they fail to delegate. While they say they don’t have time, I have learnt it is more about reluctance, for various reasons. If only it were perceived and reframed as a positive intervention for all involved!
Over the years I have found that new leaders often struggle with managing their workload. Too busy and not enough time in the day, they fail to delegate. While they say they don’t have time, I have learnt it is more about reluctance, for various reasons. If only it were perceived and reframed as a positive intervention for all involved!
Delegation provides the dual benefits of freeing up the leader’s time while simultaneously developing skills in their team. The questions to be asking themselves are “what is the best use of my time” and “what is the cost of not delegating”? As with the “teaching people how to fish” adage, the investment of time will be rewarded on both sides - they will ultimately save many hours, and the team will learn new skills.
When a leader masters the art of delegation, a whole new horizon opens up for all involved. Delegation frees up their time to be more productive and strategic.
The benefits of delegation are enormous and often reciprocal:It generally provides development and feedback opportunities.
- It maximises the skills and resources of team members.
- It expands skill-building, training and other work-related experiences.
- It demonstrates trust in the employee.
- It inspires confidence, motivation and job satisfaction.
- It develops problem-solving and decision-making capabilities.
Delegation involves passing authority to subordinates to carry out the work, make decisions and be responsible for satisfactory completion. Yes initially it does require time, often including analysis and careful planning.
Why Many Leaders Don’t Delegate
The most common reason from new leaders is that they don’t have time to delegate, but that is an oxymoron. They have probably been promoted to leader on the basis of their capability and performance. They can be reluctant to relinquish their work and justify or believe it is quicker to do it themselves. Common reasons given for not delegating include:
- They enjoy doing that task and wish to retain it
- Inflexibility or lack of time (eg planning and organisation takes time)
- Don't have the confidence to delegate – especially to former peers.
- Unsure about what and how to delegate effectively
- It’s faster to do it themselves
- Unsure of who is capable or suited to the task
- The risk of inferior work (ie there may be repercussions if it is not done well)
- Fear of losing control
- Fearing loss of respect or being disliked
- Lacking trust or confidence in the employee
Communication in Delegation
Effective communication in delegating is a whole new experience for new leaders and it doesn’t emerge naturally to all. It may seem confronting to ask someone to do something, when as a new leader, you don’t feel entitled. It may feel like asking someone a favour to do some of your work. Some questions they ask themselves include: “What if I need to ask a former peer to do this task — how will that work?” ... “What if it looks like I’m giving them tedious, repetitive work I could do quicker myself?” ... “What if they resent me for passing on trivial or unpleasant work?”
Your communication, approach, and goal-setting skills will be powerful demonstrations of your leadership ability. Communication underpins the success of delegation. This is particularly evident in relation to aspects such as the magnitude of the task, amount of discretion or range of options acceptable in deciding how to carry out responsibilities, the authority to act and implement decisions without approval, the frequency and nature of reporting requirements and flow of related information.
Process and Development
Delegation as a development process requires the leader to match an employee’s skill level or provide a challenge that is acceptable. Steps in the process include:
- Decide on the task or project, and identify the right person
- Establish the goals and milestones, making the connection between how the tasks relate to the bigger picture
- Clarify the parameters around what they will be responsible for and identifying the resources they will have access to
- Be clear on the scope of the tasks and how to identify successful performance so they will know how well they are going
- Support the individual and provide coaching or training in advance if required
- Be explicit about the degree of communication required. This is important in larger tasks/projects where you will need to provide guidance and support.
Sherman’s six degrees of delegation (adapted)Knowing what and how to delegate, along with the degree of communication, can be where things go awry. New leaders may think they have delegated a task, and employees may say they did what they thought was expected. Problems arise when there is little clarity of what exactly is required.
The following are variations of Harvey Sherman’s* framework for understanding the implications of responsibility, and the appropriateness of communication required at each degree:
(1) Take action. ie; do the task — no need to get back to me. This is often referred to as empowerment — you are giving ownership, responsibility and accountability.
(2) You decide. ie; do it and report back on what you did.
(3) Look into this problem — let me know what you intend to do; do it unless I say not to.
(4) Look into this problem — let me know what you intend to do; we’ll discuss it before I give the go-ahead.
(5) Look into this problem — let me know the options available with pros/cons and recommend one for my approval.
(6) Look into this problem — give me the facts; I will decide what to do.
Abi ONeill is an Associate of Melbourne Business School and presents on the New Leaders Development Program.
*Reference: Harvey Sherman, “It All Depends: A Pragmatic Approach to Organizations (University, Ala.: University of Alabama Press, 1966)”