Leadership is sexy, management is boring. Yet how many of us have followed plausible and inspiring leaders who it turns out couldn’t manage their way out of a paper bag and in the end, if we follow them at all, it is only out of sheer curiosity. Paradoxically, it is management, often regarded as a science, which is more trainable than the elusive art of leadership.
Put simply, management is the science of getting the right people, in the right place, at the right time, with the right kit, in order to deliver the right outcome. This means that delegation is at the heart of good management and perhaps that is why management is often so poor, because we all know that we should delegate but often don’t.
We all know why we should delegate. From a manager’s perspective it can reduce pressure and stress; it increases a manager’s capacity, because it provides more pairs of hands and minds to work on a problem; and fundamentally it provides managers with the time to do the work that only they can do. From the subordinates perspective it is a powerful source of motivation and an essential part of training and developing your team. So why wouldn’t you?
Well let’s be honest, how many of us have not delegated a task because we feel we can do the job better ourselves; because it is easier to do it ourselves; because it is quicker to do it ourselves; because if things go wrong it’s our head on the block; because we’re too busy to delegate; or because we enjoy doing the job ourselves. So how do we get over ourselves? These four simple steps may help.
Ask yourself a simple question
To know if you’re guilty of holding on to too much, answer this simple question: “If you had to take an unexpected week off work, would your initiatives and priorities advance in your absence?” If the answer is no then either you have no staff or you aren’t delegating enough. At the very least you need a deputy, who can step into your shoes. Now and when you move on.
If you’re still struggling to delegate, try this: over the next month make a list of tasks that you might delegate: write them down as you think of them. Then ask yourself: “What can I, and only I, do?” If a certain task could be done by someone else, maybe it should be. The only things you shouldn’t delegate are things concerned with the strategy, planning, policy, standards and objectives. Anything concerned with discipline. Anything you know your boss would not want you to delegate, or you are not authorised to delegate. And anything you genuinely believe only you can perform in the time available, don’t cheat!
Be clear about what you’re delegating and to whom
Once you’ve decided to delegate, you need to be clear in your own mind what you are asking the team or individual to do. When describing the task begin with the objective: what you are trying to achieve, but also why. This provides the overarching purpose, which not only tends to improves motivation, but also sets the task in context, enabling subordinates to adapt should the situation change. Then provide a start and completion date, with an agreed monitoring timeline. Describe what the outcome should look like in terms of quality and in what quantity, how much/how many. Finally, detail the resources available: money, people and tools etc.
When selecting a person(s) for the task, consider their competence for the job and use the traffic light system to gauge the graduated level of support you may need to provide. Red: I’ll do it you watch and learn. Amber: We’ll do it together, or you do it and I’ll watch. Green: you do it.
Always ensure understanding
Remember, if a task goes awry the person usually at fault is the one who issued the instructions, because what you say is not necessarily what is heard, and any teacher will tell you that “Are there any questions?” is itself a poor question. The likely result is silence, because of the social pressure not to look stupid and/or delay the escape to break or lunch! The same pressures often apply at work.
The answer is to ask “Are there any questions, because if not I have some questions for you?” Make it clear from the start that you will be asking confirmatory questions to ensure understanding. This will get people to listen carefully and encourage them to ask questions if they don’t understand. You are now working with, rather than against social pressure: no one will want to look stupid when you ask your confirmatory questions.
Asking people to complete anything but the simplest task without any feedback is like playing darts in the dark. Without feedback, during a task, or at the very least at the end of it, your direct reports have no way of knowing how they are doing and therefore adjusting their aim or approach.
It is also important to engage them in a dialogue, not a diatribe. Help them learn, by exploring what has gone well, what was done poorly and how it could be changed. Ask them what they have tried and explore alternatives, and allow them the opportunity for response and clarification. And finally, thank and congratulate them when the job is done.
Hopefully, by following these four simple steps, you will ensure that people follow you out of something more than morbid curiosity and amusement.