Stop Doing it All and Start Delegating!
In a previous post, I discussed the challenges leaders face in the decision-making process. I suggested that delegating more effectively is one of the ways in which leaders can ease their cognitive loads and operate more efficiently when making decisions. Delegating, however, can be a tricky minefield to navigate in its own right. And it's not just the control freaks who struggle with delegating; we can all benefit and use improvement by acquiring some new approaches in this area.
The Difficulties of Delegating
Delegating is difficult for a variety of reasons:
- It can feel like a loss of control — Many leaders experience extraordinary discomfort when delegating, often due to a lack of trust. In many cases, they simply don’t feel confident about another individual’s ability to make a decision or perform a specific task correctly.
- The issue of accountability — Leaders will be held accountable for their decisions whether they have delegated to others or not. When things go right, they get to share the success, but if something goes awry, the leader is held fully accountable. That is why leaders often hesitate to delegate, especially if they don't feel confident in other members of their teams.
- It requires time, effort and patience — To feel confident about delegating decisions and tasks, leaders need to train and mentor their people adequately. This takes time and energy that might seem too costly when a leader could merely take on the challenges themselves.
Leaders who experience these and other delegation difficulties aren’t alone. There is a tremendous amount of potential risk involved in delegating significant decisions, and I can certainly understand the hesitation managers and other leaders feel when considering the potential negative consequences of delegating. It requires trust, and for far too many organizations, trust is an element that is sorely lacking.
Why Failure to Delegate Effectively Hurts Organizations
The failure to efficiently delegate doesn't just prevent good leaders from becoming great ones; it costs organizations time and money. It also contributes to an organizational culture fueled by fear and distrust.
Invariably, choosing to do the job or make the decision on your own instead of delegating creates a bottleneck that severely impedes the flow of energy and ideas. When everything has to flow through you, the speed of productivity may grind to a halt. You may believe that you are saving time by taking on the decision by yourself, but all you are doing is fostering a system wherein nothing gets done without your direct involvement. As a result, trust evaporates, and your people begin to feel like drones whose efforts and perspectives are not relied upon or required.
Burnout is another common symptom of the failure to delegate. You only have so much energy and time to give, and when you are running on empty, you not only hurt your organization with poor decisions; you deplete your energy and leave yourself vulnerable to illnesses, mental breakdowns, and other manifestations of burnout.
Essentially, the failure to delegate hurts you, and it deteriorates the overall quality of work performed within your organization. Your people begin to feel unworthy, and the trust that's so essential to collaborative performance disappears.
How to Delegate Better Starting Today
Ideally, leaders should focus on performing the work that only they can do; on making the decisions that only they can make. Employees should feel empowered to perform other tasks and to make sound decisions. But for many leaders, locating the line between delegating too much and too little feels impossible.
If you are struggling with delegating, here are some tips that can help you find the proper balance, preserve your energy, build trust among your people and make your organization run much more smoothly:
- Start Small — You don’t have to become a master of delegation overnight. Instead, begin by taking baby steps. Ask yourself what you feel comfortable delegating to someone else right now. If you can’t think of anything, consider what can be done by you and only you. Surely, you will find tasks and decisions that can be efficiently handled by others. Delegate one thing at a time and use it as a practice to become more comfortable with the process.
- Take the time to teach — If you are failing to delegate because you don't feel confident in your employees' ability to perform tasks and make decisions, it's time to lay some educational groundwork. Sure, teaching your people how to perform a task correctly may seem like a waste of time when you feel you could just do it yourself right now. However, by taking the time to coach and teach your people, you make an investment that will pay off in myriad ways.
- Pay Attention to Strengths and Weaknesses — This is where a highly developed sense of emotional intelligence, or EQ, comes in. Pay attention to your team and its members. Who among them is super detailed and organized? Who are the creative ones? Which people seem to have a knack for collaboration? In what areas do your team members struggle? Use your observations to inform how you delegate, and you will become an expert at choosing the perfect person for the job.
- Check in and follow through — When you’ve delegated a task or decision to someone else, it is critical that you maintain ongoing communication. Make yourself available to answer questions and provide feedback. The last thing you want is for someone to be afraid to ask for help. You also need to follow through with the task or decision you've delegated; was it done suitably? What can be done to perform more effectively in the future? Did your employee excel in some way? Remember, as a leader, you are ultimately responsible for the decisions you make, even if they have been delegated to someone else, so your involvement and follow through is essential, especially if delegating is new for you.
- Pay attention to innovation — One of the coolest aspects of delegating is the chance to add fresh energy and perspective to tasks and decisions that have become old hat. By allowing others to take on some of your responsibilities, you gain the ability to develop new and improved ways of doing things. Your employees will look at issues with fresh eyes, and they will generate solutions that you can integrate into new policies and procedures that will benefit your organization.
Let’s Continue the Delegation Conversation
There are many ways in which leaders can improve their ability to delegate — I feel like I've only just begun to scratch the surface here!