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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Davies

Delegation

Today marks my 100th blog since I started writing in December of 2021! I am not someone with a desire to spend every waking minute of my day on LinkedIn and I see some of my contemporaries who post every single day, which blows me away, because I know the time and effort it takes to craft useful content, but I've really made the effort to be consistent and share things that are useful or interesting. I've taken time off over holidays but otherwise, I've posted every week and I hope my writing continues to add value. I appreciate all of you taking the time to read and engage with the posts!


Delegation is a topic I've written about before, fairly extensively, but it emerges so frequently in my coaching and training and in so many different forms, I thought it'd be useful to visit it again and approach it from a different perspective. Often, it's an overworked or overwhelmed leader who is looking to take some of the work off their desk and distribute it across their team, in order to give them the capacity that they need to be able to focus on the activities that will add the biggest value, but sometimes it's an under-utilised employee who knows they have more to contribute.

I recently read the excellent Multipliers by Liz Wiseman which talks of behaviours and tendencies of leaders which make them either a Multiplier, or a Diminisher and while the ability (and willingness) to delegate effectively is only one of the aspects that she covers, in my experience working with leaders and their teams over the last eleven years, it has an outsized impact. A HUGE proportion of challenges that I see, whether it be with overworked leaders on the verge of burnout, leaders who feel their teams don't trust them, teams who are frustrated and disengaged or team members who feel they're stagnating rather than developing, issues surrounding delegation are often at the core of the issue.


If you are a leader, whether that be in your professional life, through delegated authority, or in the areas outside of your work such as sports teams, clubs, religious groups, committees, boards etc, this is an opportunity for you to stop, put your pen down and take a moment to reflect on the way in which you are leading and how delegation does and should factor into that. I've framed this through the lens of four questions, which seem simple on the surface, but should give plenty of room for thought and creativity!


The first question to ask yourself is 'do I delegate?'

Some leaders are simply terrible at delegating. I've worked with leaders both professionally and outside of work who cannot and do not delegate. Whether it's fear of a loss of control, worry about things not being done 'right' (or, more often, 'their way'), a need to micromanage everything, a lack of capability within their team, a lack of trust of their team or a few of overwhelming their team, they keep everything in-house and end up not only spending time and energy doing things which they really shouldn't be doing, but end up overwhelmed and approaching burnout, meaning that those tasks are often not done with a clear and focussed mind. Take a moment to look at the things you've done over the last few weeks. Where have you spend your time and energy? Now look at which of those jobs HAD to be done by you and which you could have delegated. Now review that same list again, but be honest with yourself!! For every task that could have been delegated, give some reflection time to why you chose not to delegate, and think about who, next time, could not only help you carry the load, but could benefit from the opportunity to take on that task.


Assuming that you do, the next question to consider is 'to whom do I delegate?'

When you have a team, it is not uncommon to have one or two people within it to whom you regularly delegate tasks. Maybe the most senior. Maybe the longest tenured. Maybe the most experienced. But it's rare for me to come across a leader of a team who delegates evenly and consistently across the team. Now sometimes that's appropriate - maybe you have someone at a higher level than his or her peers who therefore holds a different level of capability, experience and expectation, but often it's done out of convenience and, dare I say it, sometimes it's done out of favouritism. And even if that favouritism isn't real, it's important to remember that we judge ourselves by our intentions and we judge others by their actions, so if your team THINK there's favouritism towards a specific individual, then it can have the same impact whether it's real or perceived.


Delegating lots to the same person can often mean it gets done, gets done quickly and gets done well, but it also puts a lot of pressure on a single individual. In contrast, for the rest of the team it can rob them of opportunities. Growth often comes through taking on new challenges, working out how new things are done, engaging with new stakeholders, working with new systems, etc. If you have people who you don't delegate to, you rob them of these opportunities for growth. You also send signals out about who you do and don't rate and who you do and don't trust. And, of course, at times there are people to whom it might not be appropriate to delegate; perhaps if they've got a significant workload or personal challenges which are diminishing their capacity for a period of time, but leaders often get into ruts where they delegate solely for ease, rather than for development and everything goes to the same person or people. Are you guilty of that? If so, how can you do things differently?


Moving on, it's time to consider 'what do I delegate?'

For some leaders, the answer to that is truthfully 'a lot of shite'. They take things that they simply don't want to do or they don't enjoy and palm them off onto others. Those of you who have worked in corporate jobs will no doubt have been given a development opportunity at some stage which turned out not to be a development opportunity, but a really crappy job that nobody else wanted to do (like the time I found myself in an empty office, moving furniture on my own before realising I'd been duped!) Sometimes it's appropriate to pass off some of the seemingly low-value tasks to free you up to do things which are more strategic, or perhaps more suited to the level of the organisation you are working at (we need to be honest and say that people are paid different salaries at different levels of the organisation because their expectations and responsibilities differ) but often leaders delegate things that don't have any kudos or prestige attached and hold onto those tasks which do, so they can enrich themselves with the profile and acclaim that comes with them. In the short term that might enhance your brand, but what is it doing for your team? are you giving them the opportunity to stretch and grow and shine their own lights? Whenever I ask delegates at courses or coaching clients about great leaders they've worked with, I always hear about people who helped them grow. Are you doing that with the things you delegate?


And finally, ask 'how do I delegate?'

Ultimately, whether you do a task yourself or delegate it, you don't delegate the responsibility for it being done right - you're still accountable for its successful and timely completion, so it's important that the way in which you delegate sets your team member up for success. I have talked before about Cohen Brown's success triangle as a tool for this; think about whether the individual is Clear (about what's being asked, why it's important, any processes they need to follow and your expectations for time and quality), whether they're Capable (not only have they done this before, but do they have the tools and resources and the time to do it effectively?) and are they Motivated (do they have an understand of why it matters and is does this tie into something that they're passionate about?)


  • To find out if they're Clear - ask them (don't just ask 'are you clear'; ask them to talk you through it)

  • To find out if they're Capable - observe them

  • To find out if they're Motivated - get to know them


Delegation is powerful for building team capability and engagement and for helping you to spend your time and energy where it matters. Give these four questions some thought and share your reflections and experiences in the comments. And remember, if this is something that you think you and your team need to get better at, I'm always here to help! Thanks again for reading!

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