Whatever the field of work or area of expertise, one area of leadership that all managers need to understand fully is how to delegate.
An incredibly valuable – and often underrated – skill, using this tool as and where necessary can be the difference between an average leader and a great one.
We take a closer look at why some managers fail to delegate, why you may be hesitant to start, and why that might just be holding you back.
With an in-depth analysis of the benefits of task allocation, and a plan to get you started, we’ve covered all the avenues to help you understand the concept inside and out.
Why don’t managers delegate?
For some, the concept of ‘letting go’ and handing over tasks can be a challenging one. Here are just a few of the core causes that can lead to managers holding tight to tasks instead of allocating them to their employees:
Lack of training
Many fall into management jobs with little prior training. So, it should come as no surprise that the majority of managers don’t have the understanding and prior experience needed to properly portion out work.
Effective delegation is very much a leadership skill that is learned, rather than one we have innately built into our brains.
For managers who have found themselves in roles through promotion or in a lateral move from a non-management role, this lack of training can be a real problem. The result is often a manager holding on to every responsibility that should, realistically, be dispersed to the wider team.
Training can help to rectify this problematic management style, helping to provide those foundational skills needed for long-term success.
Worry about disrupting the status quo
Dealing with upset employees, tempers building or toppling over pre-existing work concepts can be a struggle for any manager. No matter how experienced you are in your line of work, being a leader to others is something entirely different from any other skillset.
Managers that don’t properly delegate work often do so out of fear of upsetting the ‘balance’ in the workplace, often to their detriment.
Worrying too much about upsetting staff (because you shared the workload), focusing too much on possible negative reactions as opposed to the benefits of delegation, are all signs of a manager focusing on the wrong things.
To empathise, your focus should be on work efficiency and the growth of your team members through the task sharing.
Managers who don’t share out responsibilities for this reason are managers who aren’t doing their jobs effectively – and that needs to change.
Fear of losing control
No-one likes feeling like they are losing control. Least of all managers that perceive control as something that’s a ‘must have’ in the workplace.
But in most cases, complete control isn’t a sign of good management – it’s a sign of a manager that isn’t properly delegating and feeling the pressure as a result.
All managers struggle with that loss of control, but how you manage it is what can make the real difference.
Providing your team with responsibilities and specific tasks shouldn’t be seen as handing over power and leaving yourself wanting.
Instead, a manager that assigns work appropriately is a manager that’s doing their job. You’re lightening the overall load while providing employees with ways to grow and develop in their own roles.
The pitfalls of failing to delegate
We’ve covered a few of the reasons why a manager might not want to flex this skill – but what happens when those attitudes alter the way you act in a management capacity?
Here are just a few of the downsides that can result from poor implementation as a manager:
Taking employees’ jobs away from them
Good employees are not likely to want to stick around if they see no change in their responsibility level or the importance of their tasks.
If you’re doing your employees’ work for them, you’re taking away a part of their job. Even if you find it easier to do so, you’re likely not making use of a valuable resource that could perhaps even do the job better than you can.
Part of your role as a manager is to ensure employees are doing their jobs. If you are actively taking responsibilities from someone, they can’t complete their required tasks to the standard they need to.
That means you’re failing in your role as a manager, and they’re failing in their role as someone contributing to your team.
Nothing gets done on time or to the best quality
If you’re a manager that’s continually rushed while your employees have little to do, that’s a clear sign that you’re not delegating well.
In these circumstances, failure to assign work to others means nothing gets done when it should or to the best possible quality. If you’re always playing catch-up, the work will never reflect the time and effort put in.
What does that mean for your role as a manager? If you aren’t handing out tasks to those best-suited to the work, you’re never going to get the standard you’re looking for.
There are also only a certain number of hours in a day and going in too heavily on work your employees should be doing autonomously means you aren’t putting your focus where it’s needed the most.
Burnout is a serious issue for any manager, and not delegating is a recipe for stress no matter how senior or qualified.
If you get stuck performing work that your lower-level employees could be doing, time isn’t the only factor to consider. Doing more than your fair share of work is a stressor for anyone, regardless of position or seniority.
Getting overwhelmed with the amount of work on your plate is a clear sign that you should be using your management skills to spread the load around.
If you aren’t doing that, the plate continues to pile higher and higher – and it’s inevitable that certain things will fall through the cracks, or that you won’t be able to handle the pressure altogether.
Neither of which are great outcomes for your work, or for your team.
The benefits of delegating work for managers
Management isn’t a straight line – and what one person excels at, another may find a struggle. But in your position as a manager of a team, being able to properly look after your team includes being able to delegate effectively.
Other than positively impacting your ability to manage, there are more ways that this vital technique can be beneficial. For example:
Better-trained, more appreciated staff
Being perceived as a good and fair manager to your staff is always an advantage. In most cases, your employees will want to do their jobs, and they’ll want to handle their responsibilities well.
Delegation gives them the opportunity to do so. By providing tasks, feedback and portioning out work, your team has the chance to prove themselves.
Who does this benefit? While proper management is good for your staff, it’s also good for you. Not only does this method benefit the company, but it improves employee wellbeing (and your personal wellbeing).
Happier staff are team members who are willing to do more and take on more work. If your employees handle the tasks you give them to a high degree of competence, you’re doing something right.
Seeing the bigger picture
If you aren’t bogged down by all the little details, seeing the bigger picture is far easier. As a manager, gaining that perspective can be invaluable when it comes to handling anything outside the minutiae of day-to-day work.
By stepping back and seeing the working cogs of your team and the wider company, you’re far more capable of handling changes, challenges, and problems as they arise.
Trusting your team to do their work, and utilising the right techniques for delegation, helps to establish that wider view.
It’s easy for managers to get hung up on the smallest details, but when you let go of every little element of your team’s jobs, you’re free to do more things that benefit them, you, and the company.
Maintaining control in the right way
Control doesn’t necessarily have to mean a finger in every single pie. In management, the right kind of control is knowing that your employees will do their best work based on your leadership.
‘Giving away’ work can often lead to that connection with the work your team does slipping away, but in reality, what you’re doing is making different, higher-level connections that work better for everyone involved.
It is a different type of control, but it’s vitally important to ensure your employees do their best work. Having a plan and a good understanding of what delegation is, and how it can work for your team, provides control in a way that gives your employees freedom to succeed, as well as room to grow beyond their initial expectations.
Planning for delegation
When it comes to using these techniques within the workplace, the first step is to give yourself the best possible framework.
While it may be tempting to leap in feet-first with delegation, having an action plan in place can go a long way towards making those management skills work for you.
Example of a typical framework
Prepare – ensure each assignment is well-designed before you hand it over.
Assign – plan out who will be doing what, and when, and ensure your employees know to be communicative on a regularly scheduled basis.
Confirm understanding – ensure your employees know what you want and set clear guidance on what you need from them.
Confirm their commitment – make sure that your employees are committed to achieving the specific results you need within the particular timeframe, and what will happen if they do not deliver on their work.
Don’t ‘reverse delegate’ – as a manager, you shouldn’t be taking tasks back from employees once they’ve been delegated.
Accountability – make it clear to employees that they are accountable for the work and task they have been assigned, which includes regular communication.
When it comes to management, delegation is often something that falls to the wayside. But by tackling it upfront and working hard to ensure a fair environment for all your employees, this technique can go a long way towards making you a much better manager.
Why not try out our plan and see where it gets you?
Please also check out our full list of managerial courses.
The Aptitude Team