Delegating: when leaders get in their own way

One of the common challenges that comes up in leadership coaching is how to delegate more regularly and more effectively.  Many leaders understand that it’s a key skill they should develop, yet something gets in their way.  When leaders delegate effectively people learn new skills: they feel more capable and valuable; it supports career progression; enables leaders themselves to focus on what really matters in their role; it builds capability across the team; reduces key person risk; team members are more likely to achieve targets…and the list of benefits goes on.

So, with so many benefits, what gets in the way?  Let’s first consider that many People Leaders are also “doers” – they take responsibility and they get s%#t done.  That’s probably why they were promoted in the first place!  Leaders like to tick things off the list, achieve and deliver results.  The idea of supposedly giving that up might seem scary and they may even wonder how else they’ll add value.  Of course, we know logically, that this will free them up to add value in new ways, but still they continue to hold onto work themselves.

How leaders can get in their own way

So, when it comes to delegating effectively, leaders can get in their own way.  I’ll often hear them say things like:

“it’s faster if I do it myself”

“it’ll take others twice as long to do it as me – that’s not a good use of resources”

“I know it’ll be done properly/the right way, if I do it”

“No one else knows how to do <this>”

“The team’s too busy with their own work – I can’t ask them to do more”

“I just don’t have the time to delegate”

“Others can’t meet my high standards – it’s not fair on them”

“I’ll feel like I’m not adding enough value if I hand <this task> over”

Sound familiar?  If it does, you’re definitely not alone (I’ve even had similar thoughts myself in the past).  But here’s the thing, all of these ways of thinking put leaders into a REACTIVE mindset when it comes to delegation.  When leaders think this way, they very rarely delegate and when they do, they’re usually feeling stressed and overwhelmed.  This approach results in work being delegated without enough information or support structures in place.  it can even cause an over-reliance on a particular person to delegate the work to.

It requires a mindset shift!

When delegation is done effectively it’s from the mindset of being strategic and therefore PROACTIVE.  This requires a mindset shift to begin relating with delegation as a leadership strategy to build capability across your team. When you relate with delegation in this way, you’ll transform how you delegate. You’ll be proactively looking for opportunities to reallocate work; you’ll be coaching and supporting people to develop themselves; there’ll be less impact on results when people are absent or leave; and you’ll have people feeling more capable and valued.  Who doesn’t want that?


Start Asking Better Questions

To step into relating with delegation this way, start asking the following questions:

  • What are the key objectives we need to achieve this year/this quarter?
  • Where do I have skill/capability gaps within the team?
  • Where do I have key person risk in the team?
  • What skills have people identified in their development plans that they want to learn or enhance?
  • What next career steps do my people aspire to? What skills can I support them to develop?
  • What work/tasks am I doing that are stopping me from stepping up into my role?


Set-up your people for success

Once you have the answers to these questions you can start planning how to build capability, rather than waiting until you or others are too busy to do a task; or someone is away; or someone has moved on.

A key principle for effective delegation is to set-up your people for success.  You achieve this when you step into being proactive and have the space to give them the information and support that they need in order to learn or take on something new.  When you set-up your people for success everyone wins.  So, what are you waiting for?  Start getting strategic about delegating.


But wait…watch out for this hook!

So, let’s imagine that you’re now delegating proactively…awesome work!  Then something happens and you fall into the trap of reverse delegation.

Reverse delegation can occur when you’ve delegated a task, the person gives it a go, but they make a mistake or aren’t sure how to do something.  You then take back the task and “fix” it or finish it off, with the best of intentions…maybe they even ask you to…thereby reversing the delegation process!  It seems so enticing, but this is a trap you definitely want to avoid.

So, if this occurs, simply seek to understand the problem or uncertainty, then either you or someone else coach and support them to move forward.  But leave the task with them.  Remember, your goal is to set them up for success.


Take action

Alright, are you ready to get out of your own way and start delegating effectively?  If you’d like support to help you do this, then book in a coaching session – I’d love to coach you through my delegation framework and worksheet.

Want to know more? Book a chat with me today!