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Leadership Today - Practical Tips For Leaders

Jul 19, 2019


Delegation - it’s something that every successful leader needs to do in order to perform and progress, yet most leaders under-delegate. This week we explore ways of overcoming a fear of delegation.


Hello and welcome to episode 45 of the Leadership Today Podcast where each week we tackle one of today’s biggest leadership challenges. This week we look at ways of overcoming a fear of delegation.

Chances are that, like most leaders, you struggle with delegation. And this under-delegation has a significant impact on personal, team and organisational performance. 

People don’t delegate enough for a range of reasons, but here are some typical ones:

  1. It will be faster to just do it myself - delegating takes too much time and is inefficient

  2. Performance will drop - the person I delegate it to just won’t do it as well as I could, so delegation is bad for quality

  3. I don’t trust people to get it done - delegation leads to unreliable results

  4. I don’t want to trouble people - delegating work to others is a hassle for them

If any of those reasons or excuses for not delegating ring true for you then congratulations - you’ve found the level of job you will remain in for life.  And I’m saying that as someone who really struggled with delegation - there’s no judgement here! But the extent to which we delegate is the pace at which we progress. 

However there is hope - becoming better at delegating just requires a shift in mindset and a few simple techniques. 

First the shift in mindset. If you think delegation is just about getting things done, then the earlier reasons not to delegate make perfect sense. Yes - it could well be faster to do it yourself. Yes - you will probably do it better. Yes - if you don’t delegate you’re not dependent on anyone else that can let you down. And yes - your people won’t be hassled by additional work. But all of these reasons not to delegate are short term focused. 

If we take a longer term view we see that delegation is actually about developing others which in turn increases the capacity of the organisation to deliver. Delegation is about individual and organisational growth. 

That shift in thinking made all the difference for me. Suddenly the things that I used to hold on to were great opportunities for my team to stretch themselves and grow. Delegating helped them to progress, and it also helped me to progress. Shifting the question from “should I delegate?” to “should I develop others?” will make you much more willing to delegate. 

So let’s say I’ve encouraged you to give delegation another try. A reasonable question is what to delegate. It’s important to delegate meaningful things that will challenge others - things for which they can take full accountability. In fact, a useful exercise is to think about if you had to delegate all of your work, how would you do it? How can you start preparing your team now to be able to take on even the more challenging parts of your role? I’m not suggesting you then delegate all of your role, but it may unlock some additional opportunities to delegate and develop others.

When shouldn’t you delegate? You need to be careful delegating when there’s a combination of time pressure and lack of capability. When you don’t have time to develop and support the person, you’re setting yourself and them up for failure. If it’s genuinely urgent and important, then it’s typically best to do it yourself. But if everything is always urgent and important then that’s a pattern that you need to challenge. 

So how should we delegate? Here are four principles to keep in mind: 

  1. Be clear about the purpose - why does this delegated responsibility matter in relation to the organisation, the individual and their development.

  2. Focus on the outcomes not the process - resist the temptation to tell them how to achieve results, but rather give them the end outcome that’s required.

  3. Be available to coach - let the individual know that you’re available to coach them through anything they are struggling with, and set aside time to do this.

  4. Build in update points - set some milestone points up at the start when you will check in with the person. This will help you to manage your anxiety levels around how the work is progressing without hovering around or inserting yourself in the process at unexpected points.

Delegation is something that every successful leader needs to do in order to perform and progress. Give it another try this week and let me know how you go.