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Delegation

Why Can’t Leaders Delegate More Successfully?

Why Can’t Leaders Delegate More Successfully

It is almost certain that you will have had to ask others for assistance (at some time). This could vary from taking messages or phone calls for you to taking your place at a meeting, or even taking over and leading a ministry you have developed. By asking someone to help you, you’ve engaged in the process of delegation (at least to some extent). So, if you can delegate on occasions such as these why can’t leaders in general seem to do it more often than the research appears to indicate?

There are many reasons why leaders do not delegate, including things like:

  • Enjoying maintaining the impression of being overworked
  • Believing they are indispensable
  • Having a lack of trust in others
  • Having a fear of criticism by others
  • Having a fear of losing face
  • Being concerned at overloading other people

5 steps to successful delegation

However, the main reason that leaders cite more than any other for not delegating, is that is takes a lot longer to delegate than to perform a task yourself mainly because of higher levels of familiarity with what is required.  Although this may well be true in some cases in the short term, it is not true for all tasks and less and less true in the medium to long term as people are given the chance to practise. For these reasons, delegation can and should be done selectively, on a task by task basis, and by carefully selecting the individual who is most likely to be able to perform at a reasonable level. But there’s also more to be done if we want to delegate more. Every leader needs a delegation process and the simple 5 step one below is one example of this. 

Step 1. Identify the Task/Project

This needs to be a task that a leader can explain clearly and can sensibly offer to someone else to do. This may well be a small or routine task initially but the leader can add complexity to the delegated tasks chosen as confidence in those to whom he/she delegates grows. 

Step 2.   Identify the right person

This simply means choosing the most appropriate person to perform the task and making sure that he or she is willing, capable and interested, especially given the current situation. It is also important to match the particular task to the skills and experience of the person to whom a leader wishes to delegate. 

Step 3. Brief the person and set goals and priorities

This involves carefully describing what you’re aiming for by delegating this task and how and by when you expect an outcome. The aim here is for a leader to set specific goals and targets and then to offer as much help in the form of support as the task requires and the person needs (see next step).

Step 4. Coach/Support the individual appropriately

The amount of coaching, training and/or support will obviously vary according to the task and the person doing it, but in general it is better to be available to offer guidance than not, especially in the early stages or when you are delegating to someone for the first time. This allows review milestones to be set and check-in discussions to occur as necessary.

Step 5. Recognise the effort or contribution

The quality of results is likely to vary greatly across different tasks and according to the different people doing them but in all cases it is important to jointly learn from the experience for next time and to offer thanks for the efforts, as well as recognition for a job done well, when it is due. 

Summary

Our simple goal as a leader should be to make delegation part of our normal schedule by identifying when we need help as well as when we can help others. If we can do even a little more delegating, we will not only empower others, but also give ourselves much more freedom as leaders to do new or different tasks and projects ourselves.

© 2013. Dr. Jon Warner. Adapted and used with permission.

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience.  He has an MBA and a PhD in Organisational Psychology

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Colin Noyes

Colin Noyes is a Brisbane (Australia) based coach and consultant with extensive experience in the areas of organisational health and growth, change management, leadership development, recruiting/staff development and coaching. Read more

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