A great number of my global development coaching clients talk about feeling overwhelmed – at work, at home, and everywhere else. For example, many women leaders speak about being ‘crazy busy’ – drowning in work, and not having any work-life balance.

One area we explore is the extent to which they delegate. Somewhat surprisingly, most admit that they do not delegate sufficiently enough. They all have too much to do, yet they have difficulty in delegating. So, we spend some taking talking about their beliefs and assumptions around delegation (or lack of!). Here are some of themes or myths that arise.

Delegation myths

Although most leaders claim to see the value in delegation, many of my coaching clients add a ‘but…’

I’d like to delegate more, BUT…

It takes too much time and/or effort

It won’t get done / It won’t get done to my standard

The capacity is just not there.

The vast majority of leaders use one, or more of these reasons for not delegating. The most common is the perception of the time and effort it takes to delegate – often translated as ‘wasting’ valuable time delegating. They insist that they don’t have time to explain the required tasks to staff.

Another barrier is around competency and confidence in the team. This often surfaces as: “I can’t trust them to do the job as well as I would. I’d only have to spend time supervising them, following it up, checking the work and changing it to meet my standards.” “It’s just easier to do it myself. At least I know it’s done properly.”

These myths tend to act as limiting beliefs and excuses for not adopting a strategy of delegation. The truth is, when well done, delegation actually frees up time and offers numerous benefits.

These myths, however are not the only obstacles to delegation.

Delegation avoidance

Some leaders are perfectionists. They want to do everything themselves to make sure it’s right, or they believe they do it better than other people. They may think perfectionism is a virtue, but it is in fact, more of a curse. Stanford Professor Jeffrey Pfeffer, author of What Were They Thinking?: Unconventional Wisdom About Management, calls this “self-enhancement bias.”

Pfeffer says that, however self-aware they might be, no-one is immune to this bias. Whatever the cause: whether it’s a belief that delegating work reduces one’s own importance, or the fear of being upstaged by subordinates through their own lack of self-confidence, you should actively determine what to do to balance out the effects of self-enhancement bias.

A leader’s avoidance of delegation says something about their lack of willingness to trust others and let go of control. Further, a failure to delegate also denies the leader the opportunity to develop others – a critical component of leadership.

The benefits of delegation

Leaders who are overwhelmed with work would do well to internalise the benefits of delegation – both for themselves and for their team. A leader’s ability to delegate helps to alleviate their own stress, but the advantage is not only personal. Delegation also releases their time for higher-level activities – like strategic thinking and planning – both vital for the organisation’s future and achieving its mission.

Delegation is also an important opportunity for leaders to develop their team. Handing off tasks, including assignments, offers opportunities for staff to learn and grow. Staff development is part of a leader’s managerial and leadership responsibilities; not delegating tasks denies their reports the opportunity to develop.

Here are some tips for delegating.

6 Tips for successful delegating

1. Log what you’re doing

If you don’t know what, or how, to change, track your work in a diary every day for a week, to analyse how you’re spending your time. If you are not delegating, you need to change your behaviour, and if this is the habit of a lifetime, it will take effort to do things differently. Pfeffer advises, “You’re likely to find that a lot of time is spent on low-leverage activities that can be delegated.” This reality-check will help you to see what you need to change.

2. Prepare to delegate

Delegating may take more time upfront, but it saves leaders time and energy in the long term. So, invest that time in preparation to ensure that the clarity and understanding is shared with those to whom you delegate, and the work will be done well. Delegation works best when you give your team the information, resources and support they need.

3. Select your delegates well

If you are a reluctant delegator, start by delegating to those you trust or know are capable. But remember that everyone needs development opportunities and a chance to prove themselves.

4. 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 your way and fails to consider other ways to achieve a good result. Concern yourself with the result, rather than how it should be done. Empowering someone to use their own initiative, methods and processes will increase their commitment and build skills.

5. Build motivation and commitment

Always provide recognition where deserved, allowing enough time for proper review and feedback. If work is not good quality, provide constructive feedback, or your team member will not learn and you will miss out on developing your leadership skills. It is also a good idea to discuss how success will impact on your team’s goals, as well as future opportunities.

6. Take ownership, but don’t micromanage

Strike the balance between giving enough space for people to use their abilities to best effect, while still monitoring enough to ensure that the job is done effectively. Delegation doesn’t mean you’ve abdicated responsibility. That still lies, ultimately, with you. However ‘hands-off’ you are, people still need to know they have your support if unforeseen problems occur.

It is important that leaders learn to delegate – but it only works well if you help the other person to succeed. Ensure they are well-informed and supported, and then get out of the way – let your staff get on with the work at hand. And remember that delegation is part of your leadership responsibility to develop your staff, your team, and your leadership.

If you would like to, please download my brochure – Women’s Leadership Coaching – For Women In Global Development – specifically designed for women working in international development.

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Email me: palena@unabridgedleadership.com

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