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Do you know if you’re Delegating or doing Tai Chi?

There is a lot of negative stigma out there on delegation. Both managers and potential employees’ frown at the very thought. This feeling is justified. After all there are lazy managers out there who love to dump work on their subordinates. Similarly, there are also employees out there that don’t see the point in doing someone else’s work
(which is what delegation really is by the way). Although we have different sentiments from both angles the onus falls on the manager for not cultivating the right perception on delegation.

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Managers need to understand is that effective delegation (emphasis on “effective”) is a leadership skill. Managers need to get comfortable with the idea of working through others. A manager’s time should predominantly be occupied for leading, guiding, supporting, motivating and coaching his team.

A manager can be busy doing a particular piece of work but the word “busy” should not describe you. A good leader makes time to meet and discuss matters with his employees. If you find yourself having less time to do that, it’s a signal that work is not being managed well.

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We hear a lot of talk on empowering employees these days. The term “Servant Leadership” is commonly used in an Agile environment. This philosophy encourages employees to make decisions be accountable for them. So when we talk about delegation in relation with this philosophy, does it mean that the manager surrenders decision making authority to his employee and gets to blame them when things go wrong? Absolutely not. There are management levels within delegation that goes hand-in-hand with the decision-making ability of an employee.

Whether you care to admit it, not all people can make good decisions. Good decision-making ability comes from experience, thought maturity and foresight. If these abilities are present in your staff, congratulations! You have an empowered employee who can think on his/her feet! Delegating tasks to them becomes less of a chore. If your staff have not reached that level of maturity, you can still delegate to them however, be mindful of the type of task and their personal capabilities. Nonetheless, continue being a “servant” by guiding people to make good decisions rather than making it for them.

Ask them questions like:

“What do you think the real problem is?”

“Can you think of a negative impact that could arrive from your solution?”

“What are the benefits if we choose that particular solution?”

“What are we looking at in terms of time and effort?”

“Have you considered how individuals/teams will react to your proposal?”

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At the end of the day, delegation is not a missile you can “fire and forget”. Delegation requires careful planning, communication and calibration. Can there be situations where delegation is not the answer? Yes. We live in times where there is more work and less people to do it. If you believe that your team is operating at the brink of meltdown, delegating more work to them is Chernobyl all over again. Even without delegation tasks to them, forcing teams to operate at critical mass for an extended period of time should not be a “management strategy”. 

If you are currently a leader managing a team in this scenario, time to stick your neck out and have some difficult conversations on strategy. Always remember that when you want to delegate a task to an individual, that individual can say “No”. This also means that you did not do your homework.

Can you force it on to them? Of course you can, you do have the “power”, just don’t misuse it.


New to delegation? Click the banner below and find out how you can master the art of delegation and not tai chi!

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