Navigating the Minefield of Delegation

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One of the most challenging transitions for leaders is the shift from doing to leading. As admirable as it may be for a leader to keep on being involved in multiple tasks, responsibilities become more complex, and consequently the transition from doing to leading becomes more and more crucial. Managers frequently find themselves overloaded with tasks. Best practices tell us to focus on the top priorities and delegate tasks to others, especially when there are opportunities for growth involved. While this may seem great in theory, delegation, if not done effectively may do more harm than damage. The most common concerns of managers and leaders are that more often than not, they are forced to re-do the task, come in and “fix things” at the last minute, or follow up too consistently during each and every step of the project or process.

Delegation challenges can include the following:

Performance Speed

Some leaders expect their team members to do things as quickly as they would. Leaders tend to forget that the years of experience they have acquired allow them to accomplish certain tasks more quickly. Setting impossible-to-meet deadlines will leave both parties frustrated; the employee may lose motivation and the leader may feel like the team members are underperforming.

Task Ownership

Accountability is one of the most important competencies during delegation. If a team member does not feel empowered and confident enough to own their tasks, it will lead to a cycle of constant follow-up from the leader and constant guidance seeking from the team member.

  • Quality: Leaders often strive to maintain their company’s quality standards and it is highly important for team members to adopt this mentality as well. Frustration may arise if there are several repetitive defects or mistakes. 
  • “Unwanted” Tasks: It was quite common for managers and leaders to “dump” unwanted tasks on team members. This may lead to a feeling of resentment towards the leader or manager and consequently to a lack of motivation.

How to address delegation challenges

Delegate to the right people

The first requirement in effective delegation is to choose someone who has the competencies necessary to fulfill the tasks. As a leader, it is part of your role to identify and shed light on the strengths and interests of each employee and to assign tasks accordingly.

Coach before you delegate

Embedding the practice of coaching early on in the process allows employees to feel more confident and ready for task ownership. Asking insightful and open-ended questions leaves room for developing critical thinking skills, which are highly necessary for owning a task or a project.

Set up a system

When in doubt, structure! Setting up a system that works for everyone involved is the best way to make the process of delegation easier. Scheduling structured follow up meetings, assigning someone to take notes of actions plans and deadlines, and utilizing technology to your advantage are examples of ways to simplify delegation.

Diversify tasks

Empathy plays a big role in the process of delegation. Simply dumping unwanted tasks on a team member will not only make them feel demotivated, but will also create a lot of opportunity loss. The leader will lose the opportunity to utilize the potential of the employee and the employee will lose many learning opportunities. For that reason, diversifying the type of tasks delegated is highly effective in keeping the employee engaged.

Quality Assurance

Consistent high quality is essential for most organizations. For that reason, it is the role of the leader to highlight the value and importance of quality to the team members and to ensure that mistakes become learning opportunities. First, identifying common mistakes is a good way to start in order for employees to be aware of them beforehand. Second, allowing employees to correct their own faults with simple guidance is the best way to avoid recurrent mistakes. 

Delegation should not be perceived as an act of placing all your cares upon the shoulders of your team members and watching from afar. Delegation is a partnership that balances between shared responsibility and individual accountability. Place responsibilities into capable hands, and trust that an employee who has undergone the right kind of coaching will be up to the challenge. 


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