The Ups and Downs of Delegating


Ups and Downs of Delegating

Where Do You Sit On the Scale?

Are you under-delegating? Are you a control-freak?

Are you delegating too much? Are you an absentee manager?

Are you erratic in doing both? Are you a seagull manager?

Problems arise when you are too far on either end of the scale. When you under-delegate, you are the only one staying awake at night thinking of solutions. When you over-delegate, you are in danger of being held responsible for a huge mess that you had no awareness of.

Three Signs You Are Under-Delegating

  • People head in the opposite direction when they see you approach. They’re concerned you’ll grill them about details of their work.
  • When you talk with your team, you’re doing 90% of the talking. They think you’re not interested in their ideas. Or if they do have a good idea, they are concerned you’ll take it over.
  • People come to you frequently with problems. They want to hand the problem over to someone and you will oblige them.

Three Signs You Are Over-Delegating

  • People head in the opposite direction when they see you approach. They’re concerned you’ll give them more work.
  • When you talk with your team, you’re doing 90% of the talking. You’re not involved in the work and what you’re talking about is not relevant or interesting.
  • People don’t come to you with problems. They don’t see any point in sharing concerns with you because you won’t do anything about it.

5 Questions to Determine When to Delegate

The goal is to find the right balance of involvement – to delegate as much as possible without losing connection. For delegating to be successful, consider these questions:

  1. Are the goals clear and clearly understood?
  2. Do they have the skills to do the job? (What have you observed that indicates they are competent?)
  3. Do they feel confident to do this on their own? How do you know?
  4. Are they motivated to do this? Is this something they actually want to do? Do they believe this is worthwhile?
  5. Do they have the resources (information, people, funds and time) they will need?

Tips to Delegate Effectively

Don’t just hand out assignments. Delegation works best when your direct report has the opportunity to participate in the decision about what will be delegated.

Have a conversation. Discuss the 5 questions above to determine whether it makes sense to delegate. If you agree to delegate, be clear and specific about:

  • The goals and tasks.
  • Any constraints.
  • What authority they have and how that will be communicated to others.
  • How progress will be monitored.
  • When and how results will be communicated to you.
  • What success and good performance looks like and how it will be evaluated.

What Cannot Be Delegated

There are some tasks that belong to you. Don’t delegate performance evaluations of your direct reports, disciplinary actions, confidential and sensitive tasks, and tasks specifically assigned to you.

Most important, you can’t delegate accountability. Ultimately accountability remains with you. Be prepared to stand behind your team when mistakes are made, as inevitably they will, and to support their ongoing learning.

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12 comments to The Ups and Downs of Delegating

  • Hello Jesse, Thanks for a timely reminder. I like to think that i get the balance about right … but it’s good to reflect on our own performance from time to time. As ever, Martin

    • Jesse Lyn Stoner Jesse Lyn Stoner

      Thanks for your thoughts, Martin. I appreciate your point that even those of us who tend to get the balance right can benefit from reminders. And of course, it is possible to have the right balance and still not be delegating effectively – by not following the guidelines to determine when to delegate. I was thinking of adding a section addressing “what to do when there is no one to delegate to,” but decided it would make the post too long and to save that for another time.

  • Thanks for your helpful way of looking about this crucial productivity and people development opportunity. Adding a little more to what you’ve already said; 1. Think of the folks to whom we are delegating as customers. We need to listen our customers before, during and after the sales pitch – same with delegating. 2. Assess their skills and motivation for the task. Wither ow or high on those two aspects, let them define with you their understanding of the ownership, accountability and authority they have to make things happen.

    • Jesse Lyn Stoner Jesse Lyn Stoner

      Excellent point, Alan. So important to engage with customers as well. Excellent 2nd point also. I think at issue is the importance of participation and involvement, which you can’t get if you’re hanging out at either end of the scale.

  • Jesse Lyn, Thanks for another great post. As always your articles are helpful and thought provoking. This is one of the key skills that everyone needs to master, and we can always be better at what we do.

    A couple of extra thoughts, if you fail to delegate properly:
    – Your team will be demotivated and will start looking for other jobs!
    – The productivity of the team will be reduced, you alone cannot do the work of the whole team.

  • Hello Jesse, I think you have the right balance in the post (no pun intended.) Effective delegating comes with experience. It’s also closely linked to self awareness. Understanding – using the guidelines – moves us to take the right action. As ever, Martin

    • Jesse Lyn Stoner Jesse Lyn Stoner

      Experience and self awareness are two of the best teachers. Appreciate your linking leadership and “right action.” Thanks for extending the conversation, Martin, and whether intended or not, enjoyed the pun :-)

  • I’ve found these to be true even as a person with no direct reports.

    • Jesse Lyn Stoner Jesse Lyn Stoner

      Great point, David. I hadn’t been thinking about it, but you’re right. It’s about knowing when to to let go and let others pick up the ball, when to ask for help, and when to jump in because it needs to be done. Thanks for adding to the conversation.

  • Nyarai

    Thanks Jesse for your work on leadership. This really helps me in my role development as I’ve taken on a leadership role and struggle with delegation as I worry so much of people either not doing tasks as I would!! I do suffer those sleepless nights working about solutions. So thank you.

    • Jesse Lyn Stoner Jesse Lyn Stoner

      I’m so glad to hear my posts are helpful, Nyari. You are not alone in your struggle, and I applaud you for tackling it head on. There is a big difference between delegating and abdicating, but only a fine line between delegating and supporting.

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