Free Yourself and They Will Follow: The Art of Effective Delegation

The toughest barriers to achieving our professional goals are those we create ourselves. Our internal assumptions, or what French phenomenological philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty called ‘sedimented beliefs’, influence our self-perception and often prevent us from performing at our best.   

Though my clients vary in seniority, role, sector, geography and size of organisation, one of the beliefs I hear voiced most frequently is ‘it won’t be done well/properly unless I do it myself’. Despite what you might think, this phrase is not only uttered by those who are in junior roles or new to management. I have discovered that this belief is ‘position agnostic’. It is also the ultimate barrier to effective delegation and therefore to effective leadership, management and performance at all levels.

A reluctance to delegate often has its origins in fear; of letting go of the detail; of ceding control to someone who will not complete the task in exactly the way you would do it; of having the time to tackle a new project that may challenge you. Regardless of the cause, the outcome is the same. You are investing your time and energy in a task that for all good commercial, cultural and development reasons, should be delegated to someone else.

However, rather than examine in detail the potential origins of this belief which will be multifarious and individual, I am going to look at the relationship between ineffective delegation and diminished individual and organisational performance. And then suggest a few simple steps to mastering the art.

Why Delegate?

There are myriad reasons to delegate, but for me they all boil down to creating and maintaining value. If you delegate effectively you can:

1.     Improve your Return on Investment – whether you are a CEO, country manager, entrepreneur, in-house exec or a consultant, your time costs money. Invest this time wisely on tasks that demand your level of skill, experience and knowledge. Do not become an expensive log-jam.

2.     Create a Culture of Learning – if you are doing everything, no-one else is learning anything other than how to watch you. They are not doing the jobs are paid to do and quite likely becoming demotivated as a result.

3.     Improve staff retention – trusting your staff and giving them autonomy demonstrates professional respect and motivates them to perform. It also motivates you to focus on projects that stretch and develop you.

Four Simple steps to Effective Delegation

1.     Prepare

a.     Mentally reframe delegation a value driver, integral to success (yours and your organisation’s)

b.     Select a project/task and assess the skills/expertise/knowledge required to complete it

c.      Identify the ideal candidate by marrying the project’s requirements with your team member’s abilities and development requirements

2.     Execute

a.     Brief – invest your time in explaining the project’s context, objectives and desired outcomes. Consult and coach rather than direct and tell. Agree key inflection points where decisions may need to be taken together

b.     Believe – allow your team member to work autonomously whilst letting them know you are there. Support as you would like to be supported but remember you are delegating the responsibility not the accountability – don’t check out.

3.     Monitor

a.     Them – how are they doing? Ignore for a moment whether they are undertaking the project in the same way as you would. Focus instead on whether they are going to achieve the objectives and outcomes identified at the beginning. If an issue arises, resist the urge to take the project back, find a solution together

b.     You – how are you doing? Are you letting them get on with it or micromanaging? Are you now investing your time in a project appropriate to your position? Or are you duplicating effort?

4.     Evaluate

a.     ROI – did you achieve the project’s objectives and outcomes to time and to budget?

b.     Learning & Development – What would you improve upon next time? What have you both learnt? How will you both implement these learnings into your management techniques? What do you think those watching your interaction learnt?

As with all change, delegating effectively and so becoming a more motivational leader and manager takes practice.  However, assuming all goes well and you have more time to invest in your own development, you could read Caroline Webb’s ‘How to Have a Good Day’ and discover more ways to make the best use of it. 

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