Delegation is a vital yet often underleveraged tool in the “Leadership Utility Belt.” Long-held misconceptions about delegation cause many leaders to deprive themselves of this valuable resource. When used effectively, delegation improves productivity, develops employees, and makes the assigner and the assigned more influential.
A Few Rotten Apples Have Spoiled the Bunch
Delegation has a troublesome track record. Throughout history, less than noble superiors have proudly carried the flag of delegation as they foisted undesirable time-consuming menial tasks onto their underlings. This particular style is referred to as “seagull management.” Managers swoop in dump all over their team and fly off without so much as a backwards glance. For those who’ve experienced life in the “drop zone”, the blatant abuse of an otherwise virtuous process has left a nearly indelible stain on the reputation of delegation.
Setting the Record Straight
Delegation is not the assignment of unwelcome tasks to the person least likely to protest. Nor is it an abdication of responsibility. The giver and the receiver of delegated assignments are equally accountable for their timely completion. Delegation is entrusting people with responsibilities that match individual strengths, holding them accountable to performing to their highest potential, and providing them with the support needed to succeed. Tasks and responsibilities are given to the most qualified person who is also the most interested in the challenge.
Another misconception about delegation is that it takes more energy and effort than it’s worth. For example, leaders who earned their role through personal excellence are often reluctant to put their tasks in the hands of another. These individuals fear that the other person will either not complete the assignment as well or might take a different approach to completing the task. When these leaders think about what it will take to get someone else “up to speed,” they conclude that “it’s just faster if I do it myself.” While it is true that effective delegation requires an upfront commitment of time and attention this should not be viewed as a hassle. The rewards of well executed delegation dwarf the initial investment of time and energy.
The Pros to Delegation
Assigning certain responsibilities to individuals who can complete them even when the leader is not present, frees the leader to focus on mission critical activities. Well organized schedules and balanced workloads allow leaders to oversee operations, spend time coaching, and think strategically.
If you are holding tight to non-mission critical tasks that you’ve mastered long ago, take a moment to consider why. Are you spending time on these tasks because the more vital issues awaiting your attention will force you out of your comfort zone? You could be stunting your growth as a leader if you tether yourself to tasks and responsibilities that can and should be delegated to your team.
Leaders who delegate correctly improve the overall responsiveness of the organization. People closest to day to day issues have the most relevant and recent information upon which to base intelligent decisions. By empowering these individuals with the authority to carry out their assigned responsibilities, the leader is facilitating the organization’s ability to react to or even anticipate environmental changes.
Delegation brings out the best in people. Participation in the decision-making process improves employee morale and performance and earns sincere buy-in to organizational initiatives.
When a leader delegates meaningful challenging work to motivated employees, the recipients of these assignments are given opportunities to add value, build their credibility, prove their trustworthiness and ultimately strengthen their influence in the organization. Delegation is trust in action. Trust granted is repaid by employees in the form of positive results and loyalty toward their leader. Being surrounded by a core team of competent energized influencers increases the leader’s ability to influence change and expedite decisions.
In the next post, we’ll cover how to delegate effectively.