Is the most important thing you’ll ever learn as a leader when to manage and when to delegate?
As individuals climb the corporate ladder, they quickly realise that doing everything yourself becomes impossible. Whether you’ve jumped from being a one-person entrepreneur to the leader of a small team, made the leap from a small business to a management position in a large company – or simply moved up a step, the ability to master the art of effective delegation is key to leadership success.
Learning how and when to delegate might be difficult to translate from theory to practice, but, according to the World Economic Forum, it can have a big impact on your career how you’re perceived as a leader.
Here we look at some key ‘delegation traps’ to avoid, and how to best re-set your approach:
Delegation trap 1: Delegating due to fear of blame and responsibility for consequences
New research published in Organisational and Human Decision Processes delves into the psychology of decision-making and delegating, revealing that one of the major reasons leaders delegate is a fear of the negative impact of their decisions on others.
Facing decisions that negatively affect others is undoubtedly one of the most challenging tasks for people in leadership roles. But this study shows that, despite feeling of discomfort or responsibility, opting to take the decision on the part of the person who is “able to decide more quickly and more knowledgeably than others” results in the best outcomes for an organisation.
The study’s researchers found that when decisions are coupled with risk, leaders often gave into temptation and passed the decision on to a person of equal or higher status in order to sidestep the burden of responsibility.
The lesson, according to the Harvard Business Review, is that making choices on behalf of others can really suck. But delegating to others who don’t have the relevant expertise is worse.
Delegation trap 2: You’re still acting as though you’re a one-person team
When you’ve started your own business – and you’re used to logging 12-hour days doing it all yourself – it’s common to struggle with the transition into leading an ever-growing team.
Often leaders will micromanage staff to ensure that tasks continue to be completed according to their habits, or else they’ll continue to work with an independent mindset.
The latter was the experience of Julie Stevanja, founder of Sydney-based e-commerce company Stylerunner.
“I was a terrible manager and I just didn’t know it,” she explained at a business conference earlier this year. “I just wanted to get to my computer and do my work and I thought everyone was the same but of course, we’re not, we’re all different.”
For Stevanja, learning to re-engage with her team rather than hyper-delegate allowed her to find an effective leadership strategy.
“I had to learn how to be a great manager and to set the time aside and spend time checking in with people.”
Delegation trap 3: You think that all delegation was created equal
According to Dr. Marshall Goldsmith, professor of management practice at Dartmouth School of Business and writer for the New York Times, oftentimes any delegation is considered a positive – for managers and employees alike.
In fact, he says, this is frequently not true.
“Many leaders think they need to delegate more to be more effective as leaders,” he explains. Actually, “they need to delegate more effectively!”
There is an assumption among executives and managers that the best thing they could do to improve as an effective leader is to delegate more, however delegation that’s doled out without input from staff can lead to situations in which employees are prematurely empowered with tasks and responsibilities for which they still require guidance. Or, on the flip side, processes that might be accomplished more effectively or efficiently might be getting bogged down by a manager’s constant ‘check-ins’ or traffic controlling.
His advice? Spend time reviewing the responsibilities of key people in your team to see where you might be required to get more involved, or take a step back.
“When leaders go through this exercise, they almost always find that in some cases, more delegation is wanted, and in others it is not.”