Delegation is an incredibly powerful tool for leaders who want to be effective and productive in their day-to-day. It offers a unique opportunity to turn obstacles into successes, make the most of available manpower, and ultimately lead teams with more efficiency than ever before. Learning how to delegate effectively can not only free up your time but also help you develop as a leader by releasing control to those with different skills or expertise than yours. Unfortunately, I have seen some leaders misunderstand the nature of delegation.
Such leaders believe they can wash their hands of responsibilities when staff members are handed assignments that were originally on the leader’s desk. The employee is now on their own to deal with the outcome, whether favorable or unfavorable. This abdication is not what delegation is about.
An organization still holds the leader responsible, regardless of whose hands actually performed the work. Leaders who try to dodge responsibility by pitching work to others soon experience a myriad of negative consequences, including distrust and disloyalty from their people.
Why do managers avoid delegation?
Most delegation hesitancy lands on the other side of the control spectrum, where leaders are not willing to let go of control. As Jesse Sostrin, PhD, describes in HBR, overextension fuels an instinctive reaction to “protect” work. Leaders who keep the workload to themselves often believe that somehow the delegation of work reduces their importance, or at least how superiors perceive it.
Ironically, delegating work puts a leader’s control into action with decision-making, task coordination and goal achievement. The more work is reserved for leaders, the less of it actually gets done. This doesn’t reflect well on a leader’s state of control. Leaders who are able to see this are more able to break their control-clutching behavior.
Another control-related reason I see leaders choose not to delegate is the perceived time and effort needed to train an employee or bring them up to speed. I hear this mindset in phrases like, “it’s quicker if I do it myself,” or “training is not my field of expertise.” But if we dig a little deeper, we can often find that it feels too much like a sacrifice of control.
Of course, then there are those who delegate the work but continue to control every aspect of the task. Can you say micromanager?