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Effective Delegation

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By Keith Barnwell

 “The great leaders are like the best conductors – they reach beyond the notes to reach the magic in the players.” Blaine Lee

Seeing a butterfly struggling to emerge from its cocoon, a man decides to help. With scissors he very carefully cuts the cocoon open.  The butterfly is now free to fly away – so the man thinks.  However, the butterfly stays on the ground, its body twitches a few times and finally it starves to death.  By reducing the time the butterfly spent trying to escape from the cocoon, she hadn’t been allowed to develop the muscle power required to fly.

And that’s why you need to delegate effectively; your people need to build their muscles up through the delegations that you give them and the support you provide – without doing it for them!

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Many leaders and managers fail to master effective delegation skills, seriously blocking their career progression and hampering their ability to lead.  The natural cascade of authority and challenge down through the organisation is often unnecessarily derailed by a combination of fear and a lack of trust.  If you do not delegate enough your people many begin to demonstrate what psychologist Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania termed “learned helplessness”, where they basically stop trying.

What are the advantages to you of good delegation?

  • You get more time to think strategically and adopt the long-term vision required for future success – what you’re paid to do!
  • You really can’t do it all yourself – no matter how good you think you are!  You have been put into a managerial or leadership position to manage or lead others, not yourself.
  • Personal and career development because delegating allows your team members to stretch their wings and take on greater responsibilities, preparing them for future more senior roles.
  • Effective delegation reflects well on you, showing that you’re sure enough of yourself to allow others to step forward and show what they’re capable of.
  • It demonstrates your trust in the people you’re delegating to and will increase their self-belief and confidence. Working long hours trying to do everything yourself will eventually damage your health, relationships and, ultimately, your performance. No one will want to work for you if you’re always tired, stressed and grump.

So why don’t you delegate more often? Perhaps:

  • You fear a loss of control, a reduction of your responsibilities or that mistakes will reflect badly on you.  If you depend on others you may look weak.
  • You are a very responsible leader who thinks it is wrong to pass your responsibilities on to others.
  • You feel threatened by your people’s success.
  • You think you are far too busy to waste time delegating. 
  • You think you can get things done faster by just doing it yourself.
  • You’re reluctant to let go of tasks you’re comfortable doing or enjoy, because you’ll have to face up to more challenging tasks.
  • Deep down you really just want to do it all yourself so that you can look good.
  • The organisational culture makes you feel you have to be seen to be doing things and have all the right answers, leaving your team members as mere passive onlookers.

So how can you delegate more effectively?:

  • Stop complaining there’s never enough time to do everything. Instead, take a close look at your time and tasks and be ruthless in identifying those that others could do.
  • Consider delegating only part of a project initially, perhaps just the initial research into the viability.  That way you have an opportunity to assess their level of interest and capability before having to take the risk of giving them full responsibility.  They will also have a greater understanding into the background of the task.
  • Download and use the LeaderFocus App on your iPad to (i) weed out tasks that needn’t be in your priority lists, and (ii) manage the tasks that you’ve delegated.
  • Know your people’s capabilities, motivations and interests to delegate to their strengths: the complexity of what you can delegate will differ from person to person, and from task to task.
  • Agree SMART objectives and, where possible, agree specific development objectives when delegating a task or responsibility.
  • Don’t micromanage once you’ve delegated; note your delegated tasks in your LeaderFocus App and hold regular reviews. Treat these as coaching opportunities; rather than instructing, ask questions and encourage them to reflect on what’s gone well so far and what could be improved. Otherwise, let them get on with it.
  • Delegate for success. Effective delegation requires thought and effort.  Ensure they have the resources and support necessary to achieve their responsibilities and clearly understand what’s expected of them – what the timelines are and what ‘good’ looks like (the what) without necessarily telling them how they should go about it.

Learn to let go, share and let your people grow.  Help them to develop the muscles that they need to become the leaders of the future.

Thank you for reading and please share this post with others who you think may find it helpful.

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This is an extract from the LeaderFocus App for the iPad available on iTunes.  To learn more and to download the LeaderFocus App click on the icon.  Keith Barnwell is a leadership development specialist and executive coach at It’s All About Leadership.