Delegation, a skill that seems insurmountable as a leader, yet is essential for a leader to manage time effectively.  I often remind leaders in my workshops that the leader’s labor costs are likely the highest of the team.  As a leader, we are paid higher wages for doing the tough stuff, and so doing lower skilled work that someone else on our team could do is a problem.  We’re incurring more costs than we should.  And, even if it is not actual dollars in costs, it certainly is an opportunity cost.

Time is Money

You might be thinking, well I will just work more hours then.  As we learned in our time management blog, time is finite.  If you choose to say “yes” to something, you are saying “no” to something else.  We only have so much time, and how we choose to spend it sends major signals to our team on what is important.  They pick up on the tasks, projects, and meetings that we prioritize or choose to do ourselves.  It alerts them that these things must be important for a leader to do themself.  They may even feel less engaged as a result of you not asking or trusting them to do it instead.

One of very first blogs, The Discipline of Delegation blog, highlights one key fear of delegation – the loss of control.  Knowing what is holding you back from delegating more is pivotal.  Ask yourself the question, what prevents me from delegating more?  What comes to mind?  Perhaps it is amongst the top ten I hear from leaders in workshops..

  1. “I can do it faster or better myself”
  2. “No one on my team knows how to do it”
  3. “Last time I delegated this task, it did not get done”
  4. “It will take me more time to teach someone else how to do it than do it myself”
  5. “I do not trust someone to do it”
  6. “I like doing this task”
  7. “I feel guilty asking someone to do it”
  8. “The team already has enough on their plate”
  9. “My team will think I am asking too much of them to do it”
  10. “I am afraid they will not do it right and I will have to do it myself anyway”

Fear Flipping

If one of these resonates with you, I challenge you to dig deeper and think about what is driving that fear.  I find that trust of the team and ourselves is critical to mastering effective delegation.  This requires us to know what is preventing us from delegating, and then flip those fears.

Here’s an exercise I like to challenge leaders with.  Once you know your fear source (trust, guilt, etc.), flip your fear into a positive affirmation.  Here’s an example:

  • Fear: “I can do it faster or better myself”
  • Flip: “I will teach someone how to do it so that they are faster or better than me at it.”

See how that changes the mentality of fear to one of possibility?  Our brains are wired to elicit fear.  Don’t give into your primal brain – challenge it through a fear flip.  It’s important to note that the positive affirmation must begin with a strong “I will…” or “I am…” to be effective.  Our brains recognize weak language like “can,” “should”, and “try.”

Set the Delegate Up for Success

Remember from When to Ask vs. When to Tell as a Leader blog that different team members have unique skills (abilities) and wills (motivators).  This is directly linked to delegation.  We must match the team member’s skill and will to the task as much as you are able to.  The best tasks to delegate are ones where the employee has high ability to do it, meaning he or she has done this or something similar to this well before, and he or she has motivation to do it (smiling and diving into it is a good sign).

The challenge is that when employees are not set up for success, they flounder and fail.  Say an employee has not done anything like this before.  Well, this is an opportunity to empower them, yet leaving them high and dry, or worse yet, hovering over them will only send them running in the other direction.  They will likely procrastinate the task, or do it incorrectly, or just assume you will do it since you’re micromanaging them.

Remove the barriers for them, but do not do it for them.  Asking, “what can I do to help?” or “what is one thing that I could do to make this easier?” goes a long way.  Instead of jumping in with solutions, you are showing them that you are there to support them, and you will hear about the barriers before they become major hurdles.  No one likes surprises, and when employees find barriers, they like to hide them.  Especially if trust is not there.  Create a fear-free zone where it is expected that they come to you with the barriers and you have a discussion to strategize how to overcome it together.  No one wants to feel alone, yet they want to own the task, so let them.  Be there to scoop them up when they fail, and be there to recognize them when they succeed.  A delicate balance.

A Funny Story

Who knew you could make delegation funny?  Well, I had a woman leader in a workshop recently, and she had taken on delegation as her challenge for her final presentation.  Kate shared her journey with one of her employees, calling her affectionately, her “baby bird.”  She knew the employee was capable of learning and doing more at the organization, yet she often made mistakes and was afraid of trying new tasks.  Instead of fearing that “baby bird” would make more mistakes, she set a positive affirmation to teach her, mentor her, and coach her to success.

“Baby bird” slowly began to take on more tasks, still making some mistakes, yet through Kate’s guidance and handholding in the beginning, then backing off and hovering rather than directing, then to hands off coaching for tough situations, “baby bird” truly began to fly.  The owner of the organization attended graduation and noted the progress that this employee had made, and Kate beamed.  Now, Kate is looking for her next “baby bird.”  Although, she humorously shared that she’s leaving the “nest” open for her “baby bird” anytime she needs her!

Delegation is a choice.  How will you delegate more?

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