The Dark Side of Delegation: 6 Mistakes to Avoid
The ability to delegate is an essential aspect of leading effectively. I see far too many leaders crashing and burning because they try to take everything on by themselves. As a leader, it is imperative that you use the talents, time and energy of others to help move your organization and team forward. It helps you get more done, plus it benefits growth and development. It creates engagement and “buy in” to the vision and mission of the organization.
Unfortunately, there is a dark side to delegation.
Some leaders become addicted to the surge of power and control they feel when others do their bidding. They might be overlooking the mission of the organization, and instead have prioritized based on their own workload and demands, which can be about ego. Of course, this approach to leadership and delegation is unsustainable, thought it might be alluring for leaders who are in it for all the wrong reasons.
Learning how to delegate effectively is not just about getting comfortable with asking others to complete tasks and manage a share of the organization’s workload. It is also about finding the proper balance and setting a strong example of what is expected. Most importantly, delegating isn’t about making life and work easier for you; it’s about ensuring you assign tasks and projects that are aligned to each individual’s skills, helping set them and the organization up for success.
Where Leaders Go Wrong with Delegation
Before I cover the specific delegation mistakes for leaders to avoid, I want to point out an error in perception that plagues managers and other leaders in organizations everywhere: The idea that certain tasks are “beneath” them. This is incredibly dangerous. Basically, once a leader decides that they are “above” doing certain things, the list of things they refuse to do only grows longer.
Obviously, we want people to be applying their talents and expertise in the areas best suited for them. Leaders should focus on leading, not on filing documents, fielding customer-service calls, ordering lunch or cleaning the break room. But those tasks should never be considered “beneath” a leader. In fact, there are scenarios when leaders absolutely should take on those “lesser” tasks, depending on the situation.
Real leaders recognize that there are no small tasks and no unimportant people within an organization. They delegate not because tasks are “beneath” them, but because they understand where their energies are needed elsewhere, allowing them to match personnel with tasks most efficiently. Their egos do not come into play. Most of the time, this means asking the right person to complete the task they are best suited to accomplish. Other times, it means taking on the task themselves. The overarching guide is never the ego; it is the desire to do what’s best for your team and the organization.
6 Delegation Mistakes Leaders Must Avoid
Approaching delegation with humility and gratitude will take you a long way and help you ensure that your people put forth their best efforts on your behalf. However, there are still some crucial mistakes and pitfalls to avoid:
1. Disrespecting others’ time — We all know that the surest way to get something done is to ask a busy person to do it. But sometimes busy people are just too busy and overloaded to take on one more thing. It is your job as a leader to have the awareness to recognize when it’s okay to ask someone to add another item to their to-do list, and when they may be feeling overwhelmed with their workload. If you don’t take others’ time constraints into account, it is quite disrespectful and alienating, so be mindful!
2. Practicing poor communication — Leaders can’t just order someone to do something and expect amazing results. It is your responsibility to communicate parameters such as deadlines and the level of detail expected. You should also make yourself available to answer questions and provide guidance, as needed. When leaders fail to communicate their expectations appropriately, delegation becomes a meaningless exercise.
3. Failing to give the proper authority — If you are asking an employee to perform a task, you have to give them the proper authority to deliver. This means making sure other team members and leaders understand that the individual has the appropriate credentials and authority to act and make decisions. You want everyone to cooperate with the person to whom you’ve delegated your task and be sure to authorize them to perform it without obstacles or unnecessary challenges. Otherwise, you will defeat the purpose of your delegation.
4. Micromanaging — One of the quickest ways to alienate and disengage an employee is to micromanage them. It is very common for leaders to spend so much time and energy watching an employee’s every move that they might as well have performed the task themselves. You need to get comfortable with the fact that your people may not perform a task exactly the same way you would. They will bring their own instincts and approaches to the table, which is good for business. You may learn something that enhances your established processes, and if mistakes are made, they can be used as valuable “teachable” moments, which will improve the abilities of your team members. Monitoring progress and making yourself available for guidance is good; micromanaging is bad!
5. Failing to evaluate performance — Once a task has been completed, it is critical that you provide feedback and an honest evaluation of the work. When leaders fail to follow through on the tasks they’ve delegated to others, it can lead to lost confidence and decreased performance. Point out what you liked and what you feel could use improvement. Offer some tips to improve efficiency and be sure to illustrate how the work benefits the team and overall organization.
6. Taking all the credit — It is incredibly tempting to take the credit for excellent work performed by one of your people, but that’s a fatal mistake. Grounded leaders know that credit for a good job should be shared. They understand that delegation means more than just sharing responsibilities; it means sharing the good fortune that comes from having a great team. Being selfless when it comes to taking credit will help your people feel more empowered, confident and engaged. And they will definitely put forth their best efforts for you if they know they’ll be acknowledged and appreciated for their hard work. As a leader, you should be secure in your power and position. Hogging all the credit only serves to fracture your organization’s culture.
Are You Doing Delegation Right?
Delegation is not easy. On one hand, it requires vulnerability and for you to let go of the belief that only you can do a job the right way. On the other hand, it requires you to stay honest and not abuse your power and influence. It’s a tricky balance, and you may never get it exactly right. That being said, we believe that delegation is an aspect of leadership that can be improved dramatically through education and coaching.