Delegation

by Phil Manington

Overcoming your personal barriers

Having looked at Why is delegation so important?, you might still find yourself uncertain or reluctant to implement the changes suggested in this topic. Ask yourself why this should be, and then allow yourself time to explore your own personal barriers.

I don’t have time

As a busy manager, you may feel that you don’t have enough time to teach others and that it’s quicker to do it yourself. If you do this, you will slowly sink under a mountain of work. You will become the major bottleneck in your department; your people will be de-motivated; your customers will be frustrated, and your boss will become so disenchanted with your performance you may well get fired!

You must make time. Start by finding out where your time goes. Then create three lists:

  1. What am I doing that does not need to be done at all?
  2. What am I doing that can be done by somebody else?
  3. What am I doing that only I can do?

Use the time that you free up from the first list to start delegating everything on the second one. Look also at the topic on Time Management.

Freedom is actually a bigger game than power. Power is about what you can control. Freedom is about what you can unleash.

Harriet Rubin

I need to stay in control

Many managers have a real fear that if they delegate they will lose control. This could happen if delegation is not done well. However, if you follow the guidelines in this section, you will free your team to exercise control on your behalf.

I tried it before and it didn’t work

You need to ask yourself why it failed before. Maybe you were less experienced then; perhaps the environment was different or your team was struggling with morale problems. Whatever the reason, things can be different and you can (indeed must) make it work. Sit down with your team and discuss what you want to do and explore why delegation failed last time. If you get them involved and listen to their views, you will already have changed things and will have taken the first step towards a successful conclusion.

I can do it better myself

This may well be the case, especially if you have recently been promoted. After all, your strong performance in your old job will have played a big part in your promotion. However, being better able than your staff to complete a task is not a reason to do the work. Actually, it’s a reason to delegate, or you will end up always having to do your old job. In these circumstances, delegation can feel very uncomfortable. After all, they are not going to come up to your standard – at least, not initially.

Ask yourself what you need to do to ensure that they achieve a satisfactory result (even if the job won’t be done quite as well as you would have done it) and coach them to reach that standard.

No person will make a great business who wants to do it all himself or get all the credit.

Andrew Carnegie

It is also worth asking yourself why you are hanging on to any task that you used to do before you were promoted. Be brutally honest with yourself – are you continuing to do this because you enjoy it? Or because it is high profile and earns you praise or recognition?

Resist temptation. It will be much better for people in your team to take over. What is more, you will find it easy to explain these enjoyable tasks and to coach someone to do them well. (And this will improve your coaching ability – another key managerial function.) And, most important of all, it will free you up to do the job that you are now being paid to do.

I need to know how to do the work I’m managing

A common belief is that managers must know how to do something if they are to manage the task successfully. The opposite is actually the case. A key part of management development is to learn how to manage activities that you don’t know how to do. This can feel very uncomfortable – after all, how can you be confident that a particular job is being done well? The answer is that this is part of becoming a good manager.

Key tip

Any activity that your subordinates can do better than you must be delegated.

Focus on learning how to manage these activities rather than learning how to do them.

So, delegating something you don’t know how to do is a great way to improve your management skills! The particular skill you will want to cultivate is to be able to know enough of the big picture to be confident that your team is on track. At the same time, you must be able to spot potential problems and flaws so that you can dig down into the detail whenever you notice them.