5+ ways to help you improve the way you delegate to get better results

by | Jun 22, 2024 | Blog | 0 comments

Delegation. Why is it so hard for many to entrust their work to others? Several leaders I’ve worked with this year have said they struggle delegating tasks and projects to team members.

Their lack of delegation is causing them to feel overworked at the same time they sense they’re falling further behind. They worry that they’re putting important work on the backburner because they lack enough time and brainpower to tackle their commitments.

As we reviewed what’s getting in their way, three themes emerged:

  • “I’m the only one who can do the work.”
  • “I’m the only one who can do the work well and on time.”
  • “It’s my reputation on the line.”

These are classic conflicts of certainty, autonomy and status.

For example, when you crave certainty, you want to make sure you’re in control of the processes and the outcomes. You may doubt the abilities of your team members to make appropriate decisions and deliver on certain tasks. Or you may not trust them to follow through with the same level of dedication and quality that you will.

When you desire autonomy, you may feel that you alone can achieve the quality you want and need. You also may derive a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment from doing tasks yourself, making it hard to ask others for help. Or you may not be able to ask for help, because others can’t read your mind about what to do. That happens when the process you need to follow is in your head rather than written anywhere.

And as for status, you may be hesitant to let go of tasks, fearing that your team members will outperform you. And if they outdo you, you may feel threatened, potentially having your position or authority diminished. Or you may be micromanaging because you’re feeling insecure. If you let go of tasks, you may feel threatened.

These conflicts can be hard to deal with and resolve until you first become aware of what’s going on, then commit to doing something about what’s holding you back and take appropriate actions. Considering these leaders had the self-awareness to express their problem with delegation, we were able to work on solutions together.

Furthermore, a couple of them upon my questioning came to realize that they hadn’t taken the time to document some of the processes they use in their respective offices and labs. So until they do so and review the steps with their team members, it’s unrealistic to expect team members to help them do tasks in a reliable, consistent manner without errors.

In other situations, you can deal with your delegation fears by addressing your mindset. As an example, a couple of other leaders I’m working with came to grips with their “hero” mentality about delegation. They tended to want to do most tasks themselves. When they were in charge, they could come through and save the day!

To move away from the “hero” mentality to the “post-heroic” leadership style on an ongoing basis, you can adopt a more open and strategic mindset about delegation. Rather than being  tactical and considering which tasks you want to assign someone—yourself or others— start broadening your thinking. Reframe delegation and view it as a developmental opportunity for team members.

When you’re a “post-heroic” leader, you’re involving and empowering individuals more to plan, discuss and divide up the work. Delegation done well results in sharing the workload more efficiently, increased satisfaction with work, better outcomes, and more employee development and growth. In other words, leaders who delegate are able to foster an environment of collaboration, shared accountability, increased trust, and more continuous learning.

Five other actions for strengthening your delegation muscles that worked for my coachees and may work for you too include:

1.Repeatedly asking yourself these two questions: 1) “Is this work that I should do? Or is it something I need to delegate?” and 2) “What important work am I not getting to that I need to tackle?”

2. Adopting the 80/20 rule for delegation. If someone else can do a task 80% as well as you can, delegate the task with timely check-ins. (That doesn’t mean micro-managing.)

3. Creating more clarity for yourself and others about your purpose, timing, and guardrails so you can be intentional about your actions, including delegating.

4. When you have a bad or even not ideal experience with delegation, do a debrief of what went wrong and what you need to do differently for next time. That way, you’ll learn from mistakes rather than avoid future delegation.

5. Using “tight-loose-tight” explicitly as a way to work with team members. With tight-loose-tight, you provide others with tight goals and tight outcomes, and give them latitude—flexibility and looseness—for how they reach the goals and objectives. You can schedule check-ins along with way to make sure everyone is following the same assumptions and headed toward the goals and outcomes. For more about tight-loose-tight, check out How to drive success with three little words.

As my coachees practiced delegating more intentionally they started realizing multiple benefits, sometimes in a few weeks and certainly over a few months. One of the biggest and most pleasant surprises was discovering how some of their direct reports, especially those who see things differently than they do, took ownership of the tasks they were delegated and did a great job, even better than their leaders were expecting.

In today’s complex and uncertain environment, working well is all about taking interdependent actions with others, which can involve delegating down, up and sideways.


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