The Power of Delegation

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A Leading Indicator of Managerial Success       

As an independent contributor, success stems from one’s efforts. Sometimes, you differentiate yourself from those in the same role by producing more at a faster pace. Other times, the quality and complexity of work are the X-factor. Whatever the scale, your direct efforts spell the difference between meeting and exceeding expectations—a critical distinction in pay-for-performance organizations.

That all changes when you become a manager. Suddenly, your success is at least partially dependent on other people. Then, as you move up the organizational ranks, the pendulum continues to swing from action to influence. Soon, you’re the captain of a ship, accountable for setting the course but completely reliant on the crew to power and steer the vessel.

The Importance of Delegation

No single attribute, behavior, or skill makes a great manager. While HR can measure an individual’s leadership potential to a degree, there is no special sauce that can, with perfect precision, predict or ensure a positive result. That said, the ability to effectively delegate is a leading indicator of managerial success.

Learning to delegate helps you shift from succeeding through your own effort to realizing greater, shared wins through team efforts. Thoughtful delegation enables team members to develop and display an ever-expanding set of skills. It also increases engagement and builds trust, freeing the leader to do other work.

So Why Do Some Managers Avoid Delegating?

It’s easy to paint micromanagers as evil dolts who couldn’t bring themselves to let go of a frightened skunk, but their controlling tendencies are not without a rationale. Managers typically resist delegation for three reasons.

 1. HOW – They don’t know how to do it.

There’s a difference between seeing and doing. Just ask any kid embarking on their first driving lesson. If you’ve never been exposed to basic situational management techniques, it’s hard to just wing it. Like driving there’s a risk in doing it poorly.

2. WHY – They don’t want to do it. 

Sometimes, new managers can’t let go of their image as action-oriented subject matter experts. You see this with engineers and scientists who are loath to leave the lab, teachers who miss the classroom, and salespeople who find managing others less rewarding than the thrill of the hunt. These managers are forever trapped in FOMO. They could delegate a project, but where’s the fun in that?  

3. RISK – They don’t trust it will work. 

Of course, in some cases, it’s a matter of trust – not having any, that is. These managers simply don’t trust their teams to complete delegated tasks. Some will carve off subsections of a project, but they will rarely relinquish control. These managers are often of the opinion that they can do it better and faster. Besides, it will take too long to train someone else.

Regardless of the rationale, failure to delegate is ultimately a career killer. We can each only get so much done in a given day. If you’re in charge of a team, you need to produce team-sized results. You can’t do that alone, and it’s impossible at the department or organizational level.  

How to Cure Your Delegation Disease 

Luckily, delegation is one of the more solvable managerial problems. Unlike subjective competencies like Executive Presence, delegation has a clear definition and an easy-to-follow playbook for success.

The how and why issues noted above are easy to fix. As noted, an inability to delegate will, at best, stifle your career progression and, at worst, brand you as a micromanaging nightmare of a boss whom no one wants to work for. Your actions? Take a class to ensure you have the skillset. Then, reevaluate your self-image. There’s no shame in returning to an independent contributor role. Specialists can be better paid and more highly regarded than their managers. But if you remain a people leader, lead them. 

Risk-based excuses related to trust are harder to handle. First, ensure that you’re not the one you mistrust. Fear of seeing a direct report do things differently or, heaven forbid, better can stifle delegation. If that’s your issue, get over it. Managers are rewarded for developing talent. That’s a differentiator in and of itself.

On the other hand, if your staff isn’t up to the required tasks, you need to face the brutal facts and make tough decisions. Delegation only works if your counterpart can catch the ball.

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