When people find it hard to delegate, they often say that they don’t have time to slow down the work and give it to someone who who won’t do it as fast (or as well). What’s wrong with that familiar rationale is this assumption: getting a volume of work done fast is the most important thing we do here. In fact, developing the team is the most important thing we do through the day-to-day work.
You want to be able to give people a wider range of assignments. They want to demonstrate their ability, to be trusted and take responsibility. And exercising those capacities is motivating. You have probably heard that 70 percent of American workers are disengaged. If they’re not challenged or appreciated, you can help. You can help yourself, too.
How do we start delegating when we believe it will take too much time? Start by conceiving of it as a different kind of project. This isn’t a transaction or a handoff. It’s a project. A skill exploration. Knowledge transfer. A relationship-building exercise. Look to your company culture and find the term that says “doing meaningful work with others over time.” The right word in your world will help you see that this delegation project includes a beginning and an end, milestones in discovery and implementation, and some clear measures of successful completion.
Take that more realistic view of the delegation project, and ask yourself whether you believe in developing your people. Do you believe that they should be unfailingly brilliant at every task today, or do they bring skill, knowledge, and ability that can be shaped for today’s challenges in your organization? (Under-performers who don’t respond to opportunities to develop are a different challenge.)
Some high performing managers who set very high standards believe that their people should be able to solve any problem. Research shows that those managers take a high toll on their people and the organization. Believing in development, the potential to improve, is a prerequisite for delegating for development. You may find that you believe that you should do everything well the first time, too. It would be worth reflecting on whether that’s true, and how well it serves you.
When it comes to doing the delegation project, you’re starting with highly variable raw materials: a team member, and you. You’re going to learn things about your preferences, assumptions, and biases by asking someone else to consider the work in ways that are meaningful to you. But you’re going to learn invaluable things about your team member, too.
Situational Leadership is a good lens through which to view delegation and leadership support. It focuses attention on two key factors in getting work done through others: willingness and ability. This proven mental model helps identify whether the leader’s delegation project is about increasing ability or willingness or both. It also describes how managers should adapt their delegation and support to make the most of the opportunity.
It’s great relief when leaders recognize that they have very able, very willing team members to which they can turn with a challenging project, give them the top line objective, and ask them to get it done. They’re also pleased to learn that their high performers need a distinctive kind of support, even as they operate independently.