Build Leadership Skills with 4 Keys to Effective Delegation

Six months ago, Maurice was excited about his new promotion. He had been assigned responsibility for a new company-wide initiative and placed at the head of a 20-person cross-functional department.

This was the first time Maurice had ever supervised more than three people. The senior team had confidence in him and, of course, were expecting results. There was a lot on the line, but he was thrilled about the opportunity.

Now, Maurice was exhausted, frustrated, dealing with dissatisfied subordinates, and wondering what to do next. Working 60 to 70 hours a week, he had thrown himself into his new role. He thought, “The senior team requires success; I’m responsible for getting this initiative done and I’m going to make sure it gets done right.”

As a result, Maurice required that all decisions be cleared by him. He wanted to know, and respond to, the smallest of problems or challenges his team encountered. He got into the weeds, micro-managing to the point where project progress began to slow to a crawl and a couple of talented people left the department in frustration. Those remaining started becoming dependent on Maurice’s input and decisions. For more, read Arden Coaching’s article, “Just Give Me the Answer, Boss!”

“For new leaders especially, it’s hard to resist the temptation to micro-manage,” said Maren Perry, executive coach and president of Arden Coaching. “Maurice wants perfect execution. And he likely got the promotion to begin with because of his functional expertise and ability to get things done. He fell into the trap of ‘if you want something done right, do it yourself.’”

According to Perry, trying to control everything is a slippery slope. “Not only will micro-managing drive you crazy, but you’ll be a remarkably ineffective leader. Maurice needs to develop his ability to delegate and lead at a higher level.”

Leaders with poor delegation skills often find themselves thinking:

  • I’m the one responsible for getting this project done successfully, so I need to approve all the work and decisions.
  • I know what I want: it will be faster and easier if I just do it myself.
  • That’s not exactly how I would have done this step — I’d better jump in and fix it.

Perry adds that ego is often involved as well. “Someone with the mindset of a doer wants to execute. They may want to be seen as the hero — the problem-solver who saves the day when things get difficult. Maurice may also be threatened by the thought that a skilled team working well together can get things accomplished without his constant, direct intervention.”

Develop Your Delegation Skills with These Four Keys

Accept that work will never be accomplished “exactly the same…” Other people will never analyze a situation or implement a task exactly the way you would. This is a fundamental truth, and it is crucial to recognize and accept this reality. What is vital is the strategic alignment of the analysis and the result of the work. In fact, different points of view and approaches will often make the end result better than if you “did it yourself.”

Establish a framework for decision-making for you and for the team. It’s difficult to delegate — and difficult for your team to know when to move forward and when to bring you in — if there’s no mutually understood framework for roles, responsibilities, and authorities. It won’t be perfect and it will evolve over time, but to begin, any definition helps.

Meet regularly (and less often). Schedule regular meetings with your direct reports/department. You need to be available, but not all the time — give your people breathing room to develop and implement their own solutions. With a delegation framework in place, they will feel empowered to accomplish work between meetings, and the meetings will serve to provide useful progress reports, discuss bigger issues, and allow you to offer your thoughts at a higher level.

Focus on the “what” and the “why,” not the “how.” When you meet and interact with your team, emphasize the “what” and the “why” of a problem, issue, question, or solution. This reinforces delegation, encourages strategic thinking, and keeps you from wasting time deconstructing “how” something was done — avoiding the “I would have done it this way…” trap.

Work on these four approaches to delegation and you’ll find that you’ll be involved at the right level — and be a hero for it. You’ll make better use of your team’s abilities, end up with more robust solutions and outcomes, improve your leadership skills, and get a good night’s sleep!

To learn more about how executive coaching can help you become a better delegator and stronger leader, contact Arden Coaching at [email protected] or 646.684.3777.