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The Delegation Dilemma

The Delegation Dilemma

Learning how to delegate is nothing short of an existential-crisis for some leaders. Upon being pressed to delegate more, leaders’ minds can flood with fear-fueled questions: What if they do it wrong and embarrass me? Conversely, what if they do it better than me?

As managers, we fear when an employee fails to complete something correctly or in a timely manner that it will reflect poorly on us. Rather than delegate more, we cling to control. Being overworked somehow seems less risky than producing work that doesn’t meet our requirements.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, we worry our teams can outperform us. By constantly rolling up your sleeves, you shield yourself from the knowledge that employees can indeed do it better. Working yourself to the bone is much better than realizing your value is bone-dry.

They say: “the truth will set you free,” and this is particularly true with delegation. To delegate effectively, it’s essential to embrace the fundamental truth that your teams can often do it better. They are on the ground and much more attuned to what works and what doesn’t. They understand nuances in a way you simply can’t.

It’s been interesting to witness how the social distancing constraints of Covid-19 have forced leaders into releasing the reins on their teams, revealing revelations that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. For example, one client had grown accustomed to visiting the firm’s offices around the world. Without the ability to travel, the leader had no choice but to afford his teams more independence.

The result was two fold: 1) the team improved their customer service performance 2) In turn, the leader was able to focus more time on the bigger picture, instituting new customer service models and developing a deeper relationship with the company’s Chief Information Officer.

Being a leader is not about taking complete control. Giving up control is often (wrongly) equated with giving up leadership as well. True delegation means giving up a little of what we would like to hold onto (some measure of control) while keeping what we might prefer to give up (accountability). If that sounds a bit scary, how can you overcome your mindset and become a better delegator? Here are some tips:

Realize that you just can’t do it all. Everyone has limits. If you fail to acknowledge yours, you will burn out. Maybe not tomorrow and maybe not even next year, but the stress and pressure of trying to do it all will get you eventually.

Start small. Delegation is a skill and learning it takes patience, persistence, and practice. Start by giving away small, uncomplicated tasks. As your confidence grows so will your willingness to delegate more.

Recognize success. When you have had a few successful outcomes on tasks you have delegated, take time to appreciate the process. Think about the time you saved and how you spent that extra time working on other important projects.

Realize that “Your Way” is not always the “Only Way.” A big part of letting go is the fear that the task will not be done “right.” The problem is that your “right” often means identical to you and fails to consider that there are other ways to achieve the same result.

Work on giving others the tools to do what you do. Delegation will only work if you help the other person succeed. So make sure he or she has the right resources and then keep communicating, participating and supporting the other.

Remember, delegation means NOT abdicating your responsibility, so you need to make sure you have done everything you can to influence a successful outcome.

Appreciate others’ accomplishments. You might be bored with organizing the annual Juggler’s Conference and Exhibition, but if one of your employees has never done it, the challenge can be exciting, invigorating, and motivating. The successful outcome is not just a well-organized conference. It’s the opportunity for employees to get recognized for their achievements.

Use the leverage. Delegation can put the right people on the right tasks. And the better allocated your people are, the greater the productivity, effectiveness and the opportunity for organizational growth.

Delegation, when done well, benefits everyone. You have more time to concentrate on the main responsibilities of your position. In turn, your employees have more opportunities to expand and enrich their jobs and enhance their performance.

So, cast off your preconceptions about delegation. You were doing a good job before: You can do even better when you delegate more. With a fresh perspective and little courage to “let go”, you’ll be amazed by what you can achieve.

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