Do you know how to delegate?

Delegation isn’t about making your work easier. Delegation isn't a reward. It’s a powerful tool to develop your employees. Yet most managers don’t understand delegation. Are you one of them?

It’s difficult for many managers to stop doing what made them successful. You got promoted for doing your job well, why shouldn’t you keep doing it?

But this isn’t the main reason managers fail at delegation.

The main reason is that managers don’t understand the “why” behind delegation.

It’s not a reward. It’s not about making your work easier. It’s not about effective resource allocation.

Here’s the secret: the reason why you should delegate is growth. Delegation is how you help your team grow.

Let’s explore the myths surrounding delegation, how to think about delegation, and how to do it properly. The end result? Empowerment, growth, and better outcomes for you and your team.

Myths and misconceptions of delegation

Before we explore what delegation is, let’s clear up a few misconceptions about what it’s not.

Offloading work you don’t want to do isn’t delegation. Delegation isn’t an excuse to rid yourself of undesirable work. If you don’t enjoy certain parts of your role, you have ways of handling that. You could talk with your manager about changing responsibilities. Or you could find ways to achieve the same outcome through different methods. But “delegating” that work to a direct report isn’t the right way.

Giving too much responsibility isn’t delegation. When you delegate work, the employee receiving the work must be enabled to do so. Giving them more than they can handle — either in workload or complexity — isn’t delegation. It’s setting them up for failure. Delegation is a form of empowerment. Empowerment means giving your team more control over their work while enabling them to succeed. Make sure you’re providing more than just “extra workload” when you make a request.

Abdication isn’t delegation. As a manager, you are accountable for the success of your team. You can’t wash your washes of that accountability under the guise of “delegation”. Your team’s success is your success. Their failure is your failure, too. While you can delegate work and responsibility to your team, it remains your role to ensure the work is completed to a required standard. “I delegated it” isn’t an excuse for poor outcomes.

What is delegation?

Here’s how Dr Anne Lytle from the Melbourne Business School defines delegation: "giving someone responsibility to complete a task to the required standard for the purpose of their development, while you retain accountability”.

In a word, the reason why you delegate is growth. It’s not to make your life easier — at least, not in the short run. You’ll often spend more time coaching the employee than if you completed the work yourself. The work would get done faster if you did it yourself. So the reason we delegate is to grow others. The hundredth time you complete a task won’t stretch you. But the same task could be perfect for another person's growth.

Note the words “to the required standard” in the above definition. When you delegate, you must only expect completion to the required standard. Not to the standard you would complete it. And not to a sub-standard level to accommodate the employee’s skill. You need to match the task to the skill, and set realistic expectations.

How to delegate successfully

Different employees and different tasks require different approaches to how you delegate. To delegate successfully, meet people where they are at.

For example…

As your employee progresses, you delegate more difficult tasks and they take more responsibility. You become less involved and take less responsibility. As the manager, you are still accountable for the outcome. But done right, you’ll have built your employees up to be able to handle it themselves.

And through it all, ensure you provide information, resources, and alignment on expectations. Delegation must come with enablement. Provide everything your employee needs to succeed.

Employee growth is your responsibility as a manager. Through delegation, you can make that growth happen.

Thanks to Dr. Anne Lytle for her lectures on leadership at Melbourne Business School that clarified the definition of delegation.

© Braden Moore.RSS