“The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.”

Theodore Roosevelt

All great managers must learn to delegate in the workplace. There’s a reason that a decisive leader like President Theodore Roosevelt talked about its importance. If you have not been delegating enough and don’t know when or how you will start, it may be time to explore the real reasons—conscious or unconscious—that you’re avoiding it.

Effective delegation is a common challenge for new managers. We’ve all thought, “I can just do this task myself. Why wait for someone else to be trained to do it?” But once you get through your own objections, your mindset may be able to shift toward a new desire for delegation. Then, it will be easier to see both the tangible and intangible benefits of delegating to others effectively.

Why Is Delegation So Hard? What Stops Managers from Delegating?

A reluctance to try out new behaviors is often based on fear, and fear is often based on experience. For example, in the case of delegation, new managers often think that delegation simply means assigning a new task to someone. Predictably, these new job responsibilities may at first be poorly executed, which reinforces the fear that delegation is unpredictable, inefficient, and risky.

In fact, delegation is much more than simply giving someone an assignment. So what does good delegation actually look like? It includes choosing the right person for the task, training them and/or giving them the needed resources, monitoring their progress, following up to ensure the task is completed up to standards, and other predefined steps that can greatly improve the final outcome.

Delegation can help free up a manager’s time, but many managers still hold onto fears like the following:

  • Delegation takes too long: Delegation is a skill, and as with any new skill you’re developing, you may be less proficient with it at first—but you can learn to become much faster and better at it with practice.
  • Team members will complete the delegated assignment too slowly: This can be true in the beginning, but delegation is a long-term investment in greater efficiency and the skill development of the team.
  • I can’t explain this task: It is possible to define certain simple tasks and goals in writing. Start building your delegation abilities with those simpler, more-incremental tasks first.
  • Team members are not skilled enough to complete the assignment: Make an inventory of the strengths of each team member and assign tasks to people whose skills most closely match the demands of the task.
  • Team members will resent being given assignments: Get to know each team member’s personal career goals and explain how the tasks you assign will support those goals and/or make good use of the person’s unique mix of professional skills.
  • Team members don’t have the time to complete additional work: Check with them. Many workers today are eager to learn new skills to make themselves more valuable as employees and enhance their professional skills.
  • Team members will make mistakes on the assignments delegated to them: They might, but mistakes are opportunities to learn. Additionally, this will provide you with opportunities to practice coaching your people, communicate regularly and openly, and answer questions to support people as they grow.

Managers fail to delegate for many reasons, some of which may include not wanting to give up tasks they like doing, having difficulty sharing credit, trying to avoid looking incompetent, and others. Understanding the value of delegation may require you to look at it from a different perspective; when it’s done well, delegation in the workplace has the potential to make your life much easier, not harder.

How Can You Shift Your Mindset and Start Delegating?

Team members are only human, so the quality of their work will vary. Sometimes it will be worse, but sometimes it may equal or even be better than the work you would have done on the same assignment.

It’s too easy to slip into an all-or-nothing mindset, meaning we judge the work as either a great success or a total failure. Really, the quality of work can be placed on a continuum, with “needs a lot of improvement” on one side and “exceeds the goals of the assignment” on the other. And even if the work is poorly executed at first, the need for improvement gives you a chance to coach your people and help their work move from one side of the continuum to the other.

Let’s look at the big picture. What is the true purpose of delegation? Rather than looking at delegation only as a tool you can use to check tasks off a list faster, see it as a development opportunity: you’re building the overall skills and flexibility of your people so the team is stronger and more capable in the future. You’re also creating an atmosphere of teamwork based on respect for your team’s abilities. And, of course, you’re giving yourself more time to be the most effective leader you can be.

What Resources Are Available to Help You Learn the Skill of Delegation?

After all this, you may still be wondering how you actually learn to delegate. Start by looking at the other leaders in your company. Keep an eye out for highly skilled delegators. Ask around to find out who has a reputation for excelling in that area. Then, ask that person for a lunch meeting, tell them about the specific challenges you have with delegation, and ask for advice.

Write down one or two key tips that you can start practicing immediately. Keep your list of tips to implement short; turning one tip into a habit is better than having 10 great tips you hear but don’t ever use. Focus first on the areas that need the most improvement. Keep practicing. Apply the same few principles over and over until you master them. As you become more adept at delegation, you’ll naturally begin to develop your own style and will discover more ideas to add to your process.

Beyond capitalizing on the human resources all around you, there are also books on the subject. But even here, you should still focus on one or two tips you can immediately put into action. Don’t let endless research block execution. Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

  • Delegation and Supervision by Brian Tracy
  • The Busy Manager’s Guide to Delegation by Richard Luecke and Perry McIntosh
  • The Decision Maker by Dennis Bakke

Another option is to take a training course on effective delegation, such as the Delegation and Accountability workshop from CMOE. These types of learning experiences help attendees develop the needed skills quickly so they can be applied on the job right away.

What Are the Benefits of Delegation That You’ll Start to See?

As you develop your skills, you can expect to see these and other benefits of delegation within your team and in your life:

  • Time Savings: As your delegation skills improve, you’ll start to see greater efficiency and more free time.
  • Self-Confidence in Team Members: Your direct reports will feel better about their growing list of work abilities.
  • Improved Communication: You’ll communicate more regularly and directly with your team members, which will not only help you become a better communicator but will also help you understand more about your team’s strengths and challenges.
  • Managerial Improvements: With more time available to you, you can focus on the big picture, coach your team, and learn new skills from your own leaders.
  • Group Wins: When more of the work is accomplished together, your team will enjoy more shared recognition.
  • Employee Loyalty: Employees who feel like they are valuable members of the team and encouraged to grow by their leaders will be excited to stay on your team.

Now It’s Time for Action

To get started, make a list of all the responsibilities and goals of your team, including short- and long-term projects, assignments for clients and other stakeholders, and other commitments. Look at everything that has to be done, and then look at the individual skills and background of the people on your team. You might realize that you simply must learn to delegate in the workplace in order to complete that list, but you may also begin to see who could be a good fit for each responsibility you must fulfill.

If you are interested in mastering the skills of delegation in a short time frame, we encourage you to look into the Delegation & Accountability workshop from CMOE. We also offer this topic in a self-directed, digital format, allowing you the freedom to develop your delegation skills whenever and wherever you choose.

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About the Author
CMOE’s Design Team is comprised of individuals with diverse and complementary strengths, talents, education, and experience who have come together to bring a unique service to CMOE’s clients. Our team has a rich depth of knowledge, holding advanced degrees in areas such as business management, psychology, communication, human resource management, organizational development, and sociology.

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