Having too much on your ‘to-do’ list can cause stress. You might want help, but struggle with delegating tasks or decisions to others. Delegation is one of the most critical leadership competencies at any level. Poor delegation skills can slow down the career progression of managers who can’t learn to effectively shift work to others in order to free up their own bandwidth and take on new work. Delegation can be tough to master because it is made up of two very different and distinct skills. First is the ability to delegate authority concerning the decisions needed to drive an outcome. Second is the ability to delegate tasks or activities related to how something specifically gets done. Depending on how you are wired to work, delegation may come easily or not. The good news is that both parts of delegation can be learned and mastered through these four steps:

Step 1: Identify the Delegation Issue.

To improve your ability (or someone else’s ability!) to delegate, you first need to identify and understand the challenge at hand. Is it related to delegating authority, tasks, or maybe both? When you delegate to others, you are empowering them to take on new responsibilities through resources, information, or greater influence. It is an intentional, proactive choice that will help you to better focus on what matters most to achieving results.

Here are some scenarios that frequently stand in the way of better delegation skills. Delegation blind spots have different root causes related to how someone is motivated to work. Do you recognize yourself in any of the descriptions below? Make a note of any that describe your own delegation concerns or maybe another manager you’ve observed. Finding the root cause will enable you to coach yourself or others to build your skills.

Conflict & Communication

Some who struggle with delegation do so because they dislike the emotional side of having to work with others and may try to avoid conflict. Their go-to reaction is to hide their emotions and are averse to expressing their thoughts. They are uncomfortable addressing issues head-on. There may be friction in the team that is affecting dynamics. Other delegation challenges can occur when a manager struggles to articulate instructions with others or have the patience to break down tasks for another person. Another issue in this area is that some managers even feel guilty when it comes to asking for help. Some may feel it shows a weakness or laziness if they ask for help, so they end up holding on to more and more responsibilities as a result.

Collaboration & Confidence

Often people get labeled as ‘micromanagers’ when they exhibit an overbearing approach on how things should be done which translates into significant difficulty letting things go. They are seen as poor collaborators because they are so concerned with avoiding errors and managing risk that they feel if they are not completely involved in each step of a task, things may go wrong. Many times what gets in the way of good collaboration is a lack of trust or confidence that someone knows what they are doing. Sometimes, delegation isn’t even something that comes to mind for the non-collaborative manager. That person just wants to do things on their own. Some managers have a need to work with such urgency that they don’t have the patience to explain to others how to do tasks because they’d rather do it faster by themselves, but this is a slippery slope as it eats up valuable bandwidth, destroys trust, and prevents others from learning new skills.

Step 2: Make a List.

The next step is to make a list of things that need to get done within a defined timeframe. Then separate these tasks into two categories. Things that are solely items that you must do and things that others can do with or without support. Be specific and clearly document what your expectations will be for each task. This will help you later on in step 3 to communicate clearly to others. Capture your thoughts clearly and establish what success looks like for you in the form of a few dos and don’ts for the task. Set a clear time that you feel the task will take, but be sure to be realistic if there will be learning curves.

Step 3: Select the Right Person.

Identify who has the abilities needed to complete these tasks and how confident you are in their ability to get it across the finish line – especially noting how your delegation issues from step 2 may color your perspective here. Assign authority or tasks to those who are both ready and capable of performing to your expectations. Ask others familiar with their work if needed to be sure the person can take on new activities and more responsibility (which will require both skills and bandwidth). Then, confirm if the person is interested in the new responsibility. Make a note of learning styles that work best with this person: watching, taking notes, hands on, written instructions…etc. Work with them directly or let them shadow a top performer. Give smaller milestones to hit first, but then let them move forward with increasing amounts of independence. Find checkpoints to have the person mirror back to you the instructions you gave them, the expectations you have and share progress against due-dates.

Step 4: Create a Feedback Loop

Encourage asking for help and asking questions of the person. Find opportunities to review their work in ways that meets your needs and theirs, striking a balance between being too flexible and too demanding. Find opportunities to acknowledge progress as they learn. What if something starts to go south? Delegation won’t always be perfect, and that’s part of the journey. The important thing is to step back and determine if any bona-fide actual mistakes were made or if you are only seeing the result or work through a different lens. Your perspective may not be shared by others. If a mistake is made, engage in it as a learning experience and refine your delegation process.

Delegation is one of the most powerful leadership assets you can have as a manager. It can be a bit tricky to master because it is really two different activities bundled into one word. Individuals are wired in ways that cause us to respond differently to delegating authority or tasks. If you’d like further insights on turning delegation into a career asset and progressing faster in your professional development, contact us.