Quint’s Column: Why we hesitate to delegate (and why we need to overcome this tendency)
- By Quint Studer
- Jun 17 2019
Recently in preparing to lead a workshop for individuals in leadership roles, I asked the question, “What are your biggest challenges?” The top three items were: addressing employees who are not meeting expectations, being able to delegate, and achieving work/life balance. Interestingly, I find that when leaders struggle with the first two items, it automatically impacts the third one. Trying to deal with lower-performing employees and trying to do everything oneself can quickly eat up all of your time, causing you to work long hours to try to catch up.
So let’s make the focus of this column one of these two big challenges: delegation.
Many leaders struggle with delegation, and it’s not hard to see why. Quite often leaders are promoted because they are really good at what they do. They get into a mindset of working harder and longer because they see that it improves outcomes. When they become leaders, this no longer works—but unfortunately, this mindset is ingrained, and it can be challenging to change it. (More on this a little later.)
But delegation is important because it’s a way of moving action to the best place inside the organization. It’s smart resource management. When leaders delegate, it frees them up to work on other, more crucial items. Plus, it allows others in the organization to become more valuable and to get engaged on a deeper level.
Here is a three-step exercise that I recommend to people:
STEP 1: List the majority of actions in your role.
STEP 2: Create three columns. Column 1 is for tasks only you can do. Column 2 is for tasks that could be delegated as long as the person who will receive that task is provided some training. Column 3 is for those tasks that could be delegated right away or with minimal training.
STEP 3: Make checkmarks for each task you identified in the most appropriate column. For example, if I have been engaged to speak, this is a task I cannot delegate. Only I can do the agreed-upon presentation so that goes in Column 1. But if I have to travel by air and get a hotel room, making these arrangements is something that can be delegated, so it would go in Column 2 or possibly 3.
This simple process can help one assess how effective they are at delegation. It can help them create a plan to begin delegating more so they can spend more time working on the business rather than in the business. They can focus more on assessing, then improving the performance of others, which can benefit the company exponentially.
When you think about the definition of delegate—assign, entrust, pass on, hand on/over, transfer—you can see that there is nothing negative about it. To have something delegated to you is an honor. So why, other than ingrained habit as I mentioned earlier, do leaders find it such a challenge to delegate?
After the survey results came in, I rounded up some people and asked them this question: “What stops you from delegating?” Here are some of the answers I got, along with my responses:
“It’s faster to do it myself.” Likely this is true only in the short-term. It may even feed the ego or reinforce victim thinking. Always doing it yourself will not help anyone in the long-term. No doubt, documenting steps, taking time to teach, and so forth is a short-term slowdown. Yet, in the long run, it’s a win for everyone.
“If I teach others to do what I do, I may not be needed.” This is not true at all. In fact, you will be needed more. You have proven you can develop others, and the time you are being provided is spent making things better by working on the business versus in the business.
“My direct reports are already busy. I can’t ask them to do more.” This is a myth. When you handle delegation the right way, staff will like the fact they are being trusted. The key is to discuss what can get better and reiterate how much they are trusted. Here we are talking about the word empowered. Also, you will not know how much someone can handle until you give them more responsibility. Most people will do well. And if someone doesn’t, at least you now know their capacity.
“My direct reports don’t have the ability to do it as well as I do (or at all).” Often they may not. But sometimes they will even do better. They may see it as an honor to be trusted with an important task. And even if they don’t do a perfect job, think about it this way: Can someone else do it well enough to free me up to do other needed things? If the answer is yes, delegate.
“The staff will feel dumped on.” Actually, they likely won’t if you connect the dots to trust, build up their confidence, and reinforce how it will make things better for everyone. When people understand the why, they will usually readily agree to what you’re asking them to do.
The final step in good delegating is to close the loop. With staff doing some tasks, either fully or partially, you will have that time to do other things. Share with staff what those items are and the impact they can have on the company and on everyone’s future. This is especially important if the newfound time will mean you are out of the department or away on business more often.
I guarantee the above exercise will be time well spent. Everyone wins. To delegate is to trust. It is to help others grow and develop—and to help ourselves grow and develop as well. And that—becoming the best we can be and helping those around us to do the same—is why we answered the call to be leaders in the first place.
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