The Real Challenge in Delegating

One of the things most coaches tell the managers they work with is to delegate. The speech goes something like this: You’ve got to learn to delegate because:

  • It frees you up to do more important things (you save time and get more done),
  • it helps develop the skills of subordinates (they learn new skills and take on more responsibility) and
  • it gives subordinates a path for growth (making their job more compelling).

There are two traps for those trying to delegate. The first is obvious and is most often cited when someone has trouble delegating: They just can’t give up the tasks to others. The hazards of this for the manager who cannot delegate are numerous and include:

  • Burnout,
  • inability to take on a greater role,
  • no development of subordinates leading to low morale, turnover and particularly harsh, the loss of the best people (who are always looking to grow and won’t tolerate never being asked to do more).

The second trap is less obvious but just as debilitating. That is the challenge of “letting go” when delegating. This means not only turning over a task to someone else (getting past trap one), it also means tolerating their doing it differently and perhaps not as well (at least at first).

The most effective managers understand that there are always multiple ways to do something well and that it takes time to perfect any of those ways. In a word, effective managers are more tolerant of how something gets done (as long as it does get done). They appreciate diversity in how someone else takes on a task and also seem to enjoy watching a new approach bloom. In other words, they “let go” when they delegate.

Like most of what is written here, it is easier to say, “delegate and watch with appreciation what happens next,” than to do it. Let us know if you would like to some help with it. You’ll be glad you did.