Are You Delegating or Dumping?

Effective delegation is a critical leadership skill. When done effectively delegation is what allows a business to grow beyond the capabilities of the owner or founder and it is what allows business owners to truly step into a leadership role and stop managing – or being managed by their businesses. It is also a key factor in empowering your team to perform at their full potential.
I am a module faculty member for the DFW Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program. The participants in this program develop a growth plan for their businesses. One of the learnings that I believe they truly integrate is the understanding that, if they are going to achieve their growth goals, they can’t do it all themselves and they can’t do it with their staff doing exactly what they are doing today. Everyone must step up to a new level. Effective delegation is one of the skills that allows this to happen.

Here’s to delegating your way to growth, engaged employees, and having a life and a successful business – all at the same time.
Effective delegation lies somewhere toward the midpoint on a continuum between micromanaging and throwing employees into the deep end to sink or swim. The challenge for leaders is to determine exactly where that midpoint is because it depends. It depends on a lot of factors like the task being delegated, the experience of the person you are delegating to and the work style of the individual taking on the task.

This means the midpoint is an always moving mark.
Effective delegation is something I struggled with as a young manager and it is something I still find challenging today. Left to me own devices I, like many of the entrepreneurs and business owners I work with, have a tendency to operate at one end or the other of the continuum.
The definition of delegation is simple enough:

  • Entrust (a task or responsibility) to another person, typically one who is less senior than oneself;
  • To give (control, responsibility, authority, etc.) to someone: to trust someone with (a job, duty, etc.).

Yet this definition is full of words that trigger emotions for us as we think about delegating a task or responsibility – words like trust, control and authority. The truth is, delegating makes us vulnerable. Yet to be effective leaders and to achieve the growth goals we have for our businesses it is a step we must take.
Adding to the challenge is the fact that as leaders we often perceive that our team members are resisting taking on the task, responsibility or authority that we are delegating to them. We too often believe they prefer to be told what to do rather than having to take on initiative and responsibility. The truth is, accepting delegation makes staff feel vulnerable as well. 
This feeling of vulnerability on both sides pushes leaders and team members to resist delegation. Given these interpersonal dynamics, how can you increase your comfort level with and effectiveness in delegating, while at the same time increasing your staff’s willingness to accept delegation?
Much of my thinking about effective delegation has been influenced by David Marquet in his book Turn the Ship Around, the story of how he turned the worst performing nuclear submarine (Sante Fe) in the US Navy into one of the best. Marquet says there are three critical factors to achieving increased levels of responsibility and engagement at all levels of an organization.
1.    Decentralize Control
Marquet’s goal was to push control, decision making and problem solving down in the organizational hierarchy as far as possible. To delegate in a way that truly empowers and allows staff to function at their highest potential, you must delegate more than tasks. You must delegate projects, decision making and problem solving. You must delegate in a way that allows (and requires) your team members to engage their brains. Start by identifying one to three decision points that you could delegate to a lower level within the organization.
2.    Ensure Clarity
To prevent the need to micromanage once you have delegated control or decision making, it is imperative that every member of the team be clear on the goal or the desired outcome. Focus on what you want to achieve and why. Leave the specifics of “how” up to those you have delegated to. In addition to clarity on the “what” and “why” your team must be clear on the vision and core values of the organization. It is clarity around vision and values that allows consistent decisions to be made by a large number of diverse individuals.
3.    Develop Skills and Competencies
Marquet says, “Control without competency is chaos.” As leaders it is our responsibility to assure that our staff of the skills and competencies to take on the projects we are asking them to complete, the decisions we are asking them to make and the problems we are asking them to solve.

Dumping is not delegating. In the early stages you will likely need to be more involved. As Marquet points out, it is much more efficient and effective to do short, frequent check-ins than to wait to the very end and realize that a wrong assumption in step two of the process has derailed the entire project.
I will add a fourth factor to the three outlined by Marquet: Reward the Behaviors You Desire. If you desire your staff to take more initiative and make more decisions on their own you must reward them for doing so, even if the outcome is not exactly the one you wanted.
In the end, delegating more responsibility to team members and getting team members to embrace the additional responsibility is a change process – with emphasis on the word “process”.

There will be good days and bad days. Sometimes it will feel like you are taking two steps forward and one backward – or maybe even one forward and two backward. Ultimately though your business can only reach its full potential if every one of your team members is operating at their full potential and effective delegation is one of the keys to unlocking that potential.

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POSTED ON: Strategy and Vision