Updated: Mar 16
You know that feeling. It’s way past time for logging off and heading home. But here you are, in front of your computer finishing up the last bits and pieces. Another couple of minutes you say to yourself, but an hour later, you’re still at it. That’s when it dawns on you -- why are you still here while the team left hours ago? Why have you taken on the bulk of the work and why is it so hard to delegate?
What’s behind delegation?
A recent conversation with a young leader highlighted a common misconception when it comes to delegation, which is, delegation is simply the handing over of tasks to others. You have a pile of work to get through and you hand over a few of these to others on the team. In simple terms, that’s pretty accurate but to delegate effectively takes a slight shift in mindset.
Why is it so hard to delegate?
1. It feels like passing the buck
A common misconception that hampers delegating work is the fear that you’re overloading others. You don’t want the team to resent you or feel like you’ve burdened them with too much work.
Mindset shift: delegation empowers others and grows the collective skills of the team. Done well, you’ll still have some involvement in the process. That’s why delegation is such an important management skill - you’re still involved in managing the process.
2. It’s more efficient to do it myself
Another common reason delegation is so often neglected is because you may feel it’s faster to do it yourself. Perhaps you’ve been burnt by the boomerang task … the one you allocated a week ago which has just come back on your desk, unfinished! By the time you explain and guide others through the process, couldn’t you’ve completed it all by yourself?
Added to this, if you’re already overworked, where’s the time to support others to do the job well?
This is the reality for many, until you start to factor in the lunch hour you missed and the overtime it took to complete the work.
Mindset shift: Short term pain for long term gain. Sure, delegated tasks do take a while to complete because it requires you to spend some time with your team to set them up for success. However, in the long run it’s well worth the investment as the team learns new skills and increases their capability. Remember, the more you delegate the more capable your team becomes and it won’t be long before you’re realising the benefits of delegation with minimal effort.
3. What if they do a better job than I do?
On some rare occasions, a manager may confide in me their insecurity around delegation. In this scenario, you fear that the juniors may actually outshine your performance and jeopardise your chances of recognition or promotion in the future.
These cases are rare, but they do happen. Perhaps many more people fall into this category than they care to admit. In organisations that are considered a bit more competitive and where your brand value is important, some leaders prefer to hold on to key projects that boost their profile.
Mindset shift: Maybe it’s time to see your teams’ success as your success. Leaders who work with this mindset value the contribution of others and ensure they have a team that is technically strong and more capable than any one individual in the team. Creating a team that runs itself is a key indicator of good leadership.
4. I don’t know how to delegate effectively
By far, the most common barrier to delegation is that you may not know how to do it properly. It’s one of those skills we learn as we lead, and many don’t ever learn it at all. So here are some quick tips to support you to share the workload around.
Quick tips to delegate effectively:
Provide guidance and direct your team - clearly communicate the big picture of what you’re trying to achieve but give the team plenty of autonomy over the decision making process and actions.
Resources - make sure the team has access to what’s needed to complete the task - including you.
Timelines - communicate key project milestones and deliverables
Problem solving - map out a process for resolving problems. Again ownership is key here, remember - they own it; you keep them accountable.
Reinforcement - as you notice progress on the job, reinforce positive behaviours by showing appreciation and encouragement. Offer constructive feedback. Believe in your team and watch them rise to the occasion.
Reward - create a culture of celebration. Reflect on the wins as a group and savour the moment before launching into the next piece of work.
When it comes to delegation, it’s important to play the long game. See it as a tool to empower and grow your team, not just hand over tasks. Recognise how delegation can help support you to focus on other priorities.
Delegation is a skill and like all skills requires some preparation, planning, and the right mindset!
If you’re a leader and you’re feeling overwhelmed by the challenges you face, leadership coaching can help you lead with confidence and get the best out of your team.
Sha Perera, Leadership and Mindset Coach