To Delegate Or Not To Delegate: That Is The Question.

If you’re following this series, you’ve already read about the 5 lame excuses managers give for not delegating and the one real reason so many managers do the work themselves. You’ve also read the 8 Essentials of Effective Delegating.

Like most managers who want to delegate more to develop their direct reports, you’re probably struggling still with one more concern. You’re right to hold back on delegating if you don’t know how to work this out. It’s a legitimate concern. Fortunately, it’s also a concern we can readily address with a simple too.

That legitimate concern is this: Can we risk it? 

After all, there is some risk — real or perceived — in every act of delegation. You may be getting the work done. Despite the lost development opportunities if you continue doing the work yourself, you just aren’t sure the risk of handing it over to someone else is worth it.

When managers feel this way, it becomes the fallback position. This uncertainty can override all other thoughts about delegating.

Here’s a replacement tool. It’s a way to include risk assessment in your decisions about delegating. It’s also a tool to challenge your fallback position and get you delegating more often.

It works like this. First, for the task at hand, determine if it the stakes are high or low. High Stakes (HS) means there truly is something risky about delegating this work. You’ll determine what that means to you. Consider how quickly the work must be done, who the audience or end user is for the work, what the implications of an error would be, and how costly a mistake would be. Low Stakes (LS) means there is time, latitude and tolerance within this one task for potential error and rework.

Second, you’ll also want to consider the individual you’re considering for the delegated work. Specific to this task, you’ll determine how ready the delegate is. In the graphic below, DR stands for “Delegate Ready” which means the individual is already able to take on more work and capable of tackling this kind of work, too. It does not mean the individual is already an expert in this type of work — remember our aim is to delegate for development, so this is not an exercise in matching people with work they have already mastered.

The alternate choice is DNR, a Delegate who is Not Ready. This designation means the delegate is not currently able to take on additional work ADN you cannot shift work to free up time for this delegate to take on different work. It could also mean this delegate is not capable of learning or growing at this time due to other assignments or a proven lack of interest or competency. Be careful not to hastily bucket every person in every situation as delegates who are not ready — that’s not usually accurate and, if it is, you are not effective as a manager when it comes to hiring, onboarding, training, and performance managing your direct reports.

When you put these two considerations together, you get just four scenarios.


The lower right box is Low Stakes and a delegate who is ready (DR). In this situation, why wouldn’t you delegate? If you’re not delegating to this person in this situation, then you are going to be thought of as a control freak or someone who is unable/unwilling to trust others.

The lower left box is still Low Stakes but, in this case, the delegate is not ready (DNR). This is the perfect situation to provide learning and development. The stakes are low, so why not seize the opportunity to gradually stretch a direct report. You’ll be working to shift this individual into the DR/LS box for the task.

The upper left box represents times when the stakes are high (HS) and the delegate is not ready (DNR). It would be irresponsible for you to delegate at a time like this. That shouldn’t, however, be a permanent situation. Start now (and start small if necessary) to get a delegate ready for this task in the future.

The upper right box is the trickiest one. Many managers keep this work just because the stakes are high. Here’s the problem: if you hoard this work, it precludes others’ development. If people are ready for this work, they’ve earned the right to do it. How can you give them a chance to grow if they aren’t given the work that helps them prove themselves?

Take some time to evaluate your current tasks using this tool. Delegate where the stakes are low so you get better at delegating using those 8 Essentials for Effective Delegation. Next, push yourself to get more delegates more ready for more tasks. Then, go for it. Trust your ready delegates even when the stakes are high.

If that still seems too risky, consider this. The biggest risks of all come from not developing people and trying to do much yourself.

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The 8 Essentials of Effective Delegation

When supervisors fail to delegate work and give others an opportunity develop, they limit themselves and others.

Managers who saddle themselves with technician work and recurring tasks leave no time to develop for personal development of higher level strategic skills. Further, the time they spend on work that could be delegated is time that isn’t spent on coaching, mentoring, training or supporting the development of their direct reports.

Of course, a manager’s failure to delegate also deprives direct reports of growth opportunities. This impairs long-term growth of team capacity and reduces employee satisfaction and engagement.

Delegating is not something you do TO people. It’s meant to be something you do FOR people. That’s why shifting your paradigm so you will delegate for development is so important.

Recently, we’ve been posting about why managers don’t delegate. We covered the 5 lame excuses managers offer most often and then we surfaced the real reason managers aren’t delegating more work more effectively.

The next logical step is to talk about HOW to delegate effectively. Including these 8 essential steps will ensure effective delegation that helps everyone develop.

1. Select a delegate for the assignment. Select based on delegate readiness, interest and stretch-ability. Here are six questions you can ask to narrow down your choices. You can also return for our next CONNECT2Lead post about how to select the right delegate for the task(s) you will be delegating.

2. Grant your delegate sufficient authority. Micro-management is a symptom of poor delegating. Those behaviors also suggest that you don’t trust the person you’ve delegated a task to. If you didn’t delegate authority and autonomy along with the task, you didn’t really delegate at all.

3. Set clear and specific goals along with any non-negotiable protocols for how the work is to be done. You dignify people when you give them a clear framework without prescribing or monitoring every single action. For example, let your delegate know the goal, the specific timeline and deadlines, when you’ll check in and what’s expected when you do, plus any work practices that are absolutely fixed (because, for example, they affect handoffs to other departments). Then step back and allow your delegate to modify (and improve!) processes, to try alternate ways of doing things (and to learn while doing so!).

4. Enable your delegate to achieve the goals. Be fair and reasonable. You can’t expect people to accomplish goals if they are lacking time, budget or access needed to get the job done.

5. Be a resource to support your delegate. Without hovering, be available. Check in occasionally and make sure your delegate knows it is safe and expected to bring questions and updates to you. Handing off a task doesn’t mean abandoning your delegate.

6. Assess your delegate’s performance. This is particularly important the third or fourth time the delegate is independently completing a recurring task. Allowing for a learning curve means you are more involved on the front end as a mentor and teacher. As you gradually pull back, you will still check in and give feedback. Make it constructive and focused on continual development.

7. Give recognition for contributions made. Recognize effort to learn and grow. Acknowledge the risk taken to tackle a new task. Celebrate success, including the little wins along the way that represent learning and growth. Encourage your delegate often so the new assignment won’t feel like a thankless dump of undesirable tasks.

8. Maintain responsibility for outcomes. You don’t get to check out. As the manager, you are the one who is accountable for outcomes. Harry S. Truman’s “the buck stops here” philosophy applies. If your delegate is not delivering on the desired outcomes, you bear some of that responsibility. Go back through steps 1-7 above to improve the outcomes.

Once you’ve delegated work, it’s a bad idea to take it back. Planning for the delegation, effectively staging it and supporting your delegates will prevent you from ping-ponging the work in a way that causes others to feel your handoffs are merely self-serving.

Next week in the CONNECT2Lead Blog: a useful tool that will help you determine when it’s appropriate to delegate and when it’s not.

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The Real Reason Managers Don’t Delegate Effectively

In last week’s CONNECT2Lead Blog post we reviewed 5 Lames Excuses for Not Delegating.

Those are five of the justifications I hear most often from supervisors who choose not to delegate and get work done through others. However, as a coach and trainer, I’m convinced those five rationalizations aren’t the primary reason for a lack of effective delegation.

Sure, those five excuses may be convenient and may even have some elements of truth. Underlying all five of them, though, is this overarching truth:

Most supervisors, managers and senior leaders do not know how to delegate effectively.

Effective delegation requires more than making work assignments. It isn’t done solely for the purpose of offloading menial tasks. Effective delegation isn’t about picking and choosing based on current capabilities and workload.

Effective delegation starts with an intention to develop people.

If you’re delegating for any other reason, then the 5 lame excuses for not delegating will all seem valid. As a result, you and your team will be no more capable next year than you are today. You’ll keep doing the work you’re doing, never freeing up enough time to develop yourself and do more managerial and strategic work. Your direct reports will continue doing the same work they already do, perhaps showing some modicum of improvement but, nonetheless, pigeon-holed.

By contrast, when managers delegate for development entire teams develop. The team’s leader stretches to learn and do new things. Additionally, having delegated some of his or her work, the team’s leader also has more time to coach and support members of the team as they stretch, learn and grow, too. As capacity expands, so does learning agility. Everyone becomes more capable, more nimble and more equipped to tackle new challenges. These are strong teams.

In next week’s post, we’ll describe the 8 steps for delegating effectively so any team leader can build a stronger team. Before we get to that, it’s imperative for anyone who wants to delegate effectively to first develop a new paradigm for delegating for development.

When your intention is to delegate for development, you’ll make different decisions about what to delegate, who to delegate to, and how you’ll handoff the delegated work. As with any shift, this may seem unnatural at first. Practice will make it easier.

When it comes to routine delegating, most people ask the wrong questions (hence the 5 lame excuses for not delegating). Most managers, when faced with new tasks or when considering whether or not to delegate tasks, will go through a mental exercise that includes questions like these:

– Do I really want to take the time to explain this to someone else? Or would if just be faster to do it myself?

– Are they too busy? Will they be upset with me if I give them more work?

– Since I like doing this work, won’t I miss it if I give it up?

– If I’m not the one they’re counting on to do this work, will I lose status or become less necessary here?

– Can anyone else really do this as well as I can? Don’t I owe it to the company to do this since I’m the expert?

These questions are all limiting. They are focused more on the present than on the future, more on the manager than on the team, more on the status quo than the possibilities.

To delegate for development, a manager must make a shift and ask different questions about the tasks he or she routinely does. Managers who delegate for development conduct a quarterly exercise that pushes them to continually delegate more work. The exercise only takes about an hour. It starts by listing all your routine tasks. Then, for each item on that list, you’ll ask yourself these questions (to replace the set of questions above):

– Who can do this today?

– Who needs to learn how to do this?

– Who will benefit from practicing this?

– Who can offer new ideas about this?

– Who will do this when I’m not here?

– Who is interested in doing this?

– Who is doing work that no longer challenges them?

In addition to reviewing your list of routine tasks and asking these questions, make it a regular practice to ask these questions with any new projects or tasks. You don’t have to master the work before you delegate the work. Give others the opportunity to become subject matter experts and pride of ownership.

Bonus for you, the manager — even conducting this exercise and doing this work of delegating for development is beneficial. By virtue of delegating in this way, you are already developing new and higher level managerial skills.

Check back next week to get the eight essentials for effective delegation here in the CONNECT2Lead Blog.

CONNECT 2 Lead graphic smalThe CONNECT2Lead Blog and training programs are products of People First Productivity Solutions. We build organizational strength by putting people first. If you’d like to read more in the Delegating for Development Series for Leaders, subscribe to the CONNECT2Lead Blog RSS Feed.


5 Lame Excuses for Not Delegating

The job of a manager is to get work done through others.

Why, then, do so many managers do so much of the work on their own? Why don’t more managers delegate more work to more people?

There may be some legitimate reasons for handling certain tasks that would, otherwise, be delegated. For example, a team with many new people may require a manager to temporarily absorb some of the workload.

In this post, I’m not talking about those exceptions. I’m talking about managers who aren’t delegating and should be and could be. Here are five of the lamest excuses I hear for not delegating:

1. I don’t have the time to delegate. It’s faster to do the work myself.

2. I know they’re busy, and I’d feel bad about giving them more work.

3. I like doing this work myself.

4. This is what I’ve always done. I’m known and valued for doing this work.

5. I don’t think anyone else can do the job as well as I can.

These 5 excuses for not delegating all have three things in common. They are ego-driven, self-limiting and unfair to this manager’s direct reports.

Sure, any one of this may also be accurate. But, if so, that’s a problem. No manager should value his or her time more than the opportunity to invest that time in developing an employee. No manager should protect people from a challenge that will enable them to grow. No manager should hoard his or her work for pleasure or job protection — doing so deprives others of learning opportunities AND jeopardizes the company’s future effectiveness (think “hit by a bus” scenarios). Finally, no manager should expect perfection without giving people a chance to try, fail, learn and improve.

No manager should hunker down and keep doing work he or she has already mastered. There is always new work, higher level and more strategic work, people developing work, team building work and continual improvement work managers should focus on instead.

If you are using any one of these lame excuses for not delegating, stay tuned. We’ll be talking about why and how and to whom you should be delegating more work to more often. CONNECT2Lead appears here every Monday morning.


CONNECT 2 Lead graphic smalThe CONNECT2Lead Blog and training programs are products of People First Productivity Solutions. We build organizational strength by putting people first. If you’d like to read more in the It’s Your Voice: Use It Or Lose It Series for Leaders, subscribe to the CONNECT2Lead Blog RSS Feed.

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