Delegating the Right Way
Right way? Yup, just delegating does not count. Not if you want to see results. Let’s take a look at getting this right.
A surefire way to undermine an employee’s development is when we delegate just to feel like we did. We think it’s a gesture of empowerment, when in fact, we are pacing their learning to what we are comfortable with. We half-heartedly commit to relinquishing control because there is still an underlying fear: fear that the person will fail, fear that it will be your a$s on the line for it, and rarely, fear of their success. While attempts at delegation feel like steps in the right direction, if not done the right way, it adds confusion rather than an infusion of ownership.
When we delegate, we are looking to maximize its benefits, like:
teaching someone a new skill,
create continuity and understanding by communicating the desired outcome (This is big. It’s ok to tell them what you need because learning and ownership happens when you step back and let them figure out how they will make it happen.)
why the desired outcome is important
being able to let go (let them have the how),
keeping a pulse on progress at first is ok, but resist the temptation to intervene (feedback conversations serve well here for teachable moments).
What most people do: Most people delegate by giving an employee a task and that’s it. As a result, they are very worried about what is going to happen and end up micromanaging the delegate’s actions the whole time…confusing everyone.
What you should do instead: Involvement leads to caring leads to ownership. Simple as that. That means be generous and methodical with delegation, set them up for success. Here’s how:
Know your desired outcomes: in two regards.
The task itself: clear deliverables are established and communicated
What’s the point of the delegation: what do you want them to learn? Can you allow for space so the learning can happen, even if it unfolds differently than you are comfortable with?
Check in for questions: People will often be hesitant to ask questions because they do not want you to question if you should have trusted them with this opportunity. Since we don’t want them lost from the start, reassuring them that questions are welcome puts them at ease and they can begin with the end clearly in mind.
Concern yourself less with how: Be concerned with their learning. Multiple wonderful things happen when you do this: you display trust, you allow for them to forge their own path, you build confidence by not interfering, you cultivate thinking that is uniquely theirs (which often leads to pleasant surprises!). If we are not mindful, this is where we can get caught up and want to jump in. Neuroscience shows every single person’s brain is different, start embracing this instead of course correcting.
Feedback: Upon completion, allow for discussion of the process and progress. If needed, feedback can happen throughout the process BUT, you have to be a bit on the suave side to know if they are leaning on you or not.
What happens if you get this right?
Challenge: People like to be stretched and learn. This tells you a lot about their character, their strengths, and what they are made of. Once these uncertainties are known, you will find yourself more comfortable delegating as you begin to understand who they are and how they work. This is the foundation of a great team-leader relationship and lays the way for a healthy working partnership.
Progress: The ultimate ingredient in building confidence is when people experience progress because of their time and effort. It fuels involvement, leads to caring, and to ownership. As you delegate sincerely more and more, they know they are truly responsible, pride kicks in along with an incredibly strong sense of worth. There is nothing like seeing someone go from cautious and nervous, to having a strut and swagger due to their increased sense of contribution. (Oh, bonus here: this is the foundation of initiative, they ‘get’ how you work and can start without prompting.)
Responsibility: They can no longer blame ‘upper management’ for not allowing, for getting in the way, or for stifling their creativity. If they are truly given reigns on figuring out how to achieve the what…then it truly is up to them.
If you get this wrong:
I think we all know how this feels…most likely, we have been on both ends of delegation done the wrong way. Delegating insincerely ends up being a lot more trouble than its worth. You become the helicopter parent who pretends to be letting the little ones out of the nest, but consumed with every step they take. This drains your energy, annoys your people, and while things may ‘get done’, the impact on the employee’s growth is minimal.
This obviously hampers any further team development that can happen, and the opportunities for you to ‘go off and go do’, becomes less and less likely. Soon, you will feel like a babysitter rather than a leader, and your team feels like your walk is different than your talk.
Let's Get This Right!