Delegation – Zen And The Art Of Relinquishing Control


Even if you’re a high performing employee, there’s really only so much that you can do, no matter how hard you work. As demand increases, soon enough, days seem short, nights seem longer and, no matter how long through the night you work there just don’t seem to be enough hours in a single day for all that you need to accomplish. Suddenly you feel like you’re wearing yourself thin and your performance starts to decline, you start missing your deadlines, you start producing lower quality work and you get frustrated. It becomes physically impossible to live up to everyone’s expectations and stress builds up.

People in this situation quickly come to the conclusion that there is a point where they can’t scale anymore. So, they really need to count on others to help them address all they have to do.

If you find yourself in this situation, consider it a tremendous opportunity to exercise your leadership skills, by both helping to develop others and gradually accept greater responsibility by focusing your limited time in tasks that provide added value.

One of the most effective ways of overcoming this scalability limitation is to learn how to delegate work to other people. As you become more effective in doing this, two things usually happen. First, you start to become able to address the demands of others and, as you start building “capacity” and scale, you’ll be able to address even more responsibilities. Secondly, you start building an “entourage” of followers (yes, it is sort of a social phenomenon, but anything – even work – that involves people is inherently social). If you do this well, you don’t really need a management title, you’re effectively a leader. This is why delegation is such a crucial skill for any leader to master.

Common blockers

There are many factors that prevent delegation to occur successfully. Delegation between manager and direct report is common and expected. However, what should you do if you need help from a co-worker?

Additionally, if you have to delegate work, you really need to make sure that the work is going to get done properly and up to the standards that you need to deliver. This takes a lot of work. Not only do you have to define and clearly communicate the goals of the work carefully, you also have to make sure the quality bar is understood and hold people to it continuously. At times it may appear that it would be easier for you to just do the work and be done with it. Sometimes, you’d be right. It really would take less effort (certainly time) on your part to just do the job. But then you’d be right back where you started.

When this happens you really need to ask yourself, “What would be a better use of my time? Make sure I build a network that adds capacity to my work or just keep doing the same work over and over again?”

By building this network through delegation, you’ll free yourself to address topics that energize you and allow you to add greater value to the work you do, making better use of your time, while, simultaneously, helping others grow and develop their full potential.

A Delegation Primer

Delegation is a powerful leadership tool that provides benefits for both contributors. However, not all tasks can or should be delegated and tasks that can (or should) be delegated can’t be delegated to just anyone. Keep in mind that you’re still trying to achieve excellence in the end result. So, determining which tasks can be delegated and to whom they can be delegated to also requires some thought and planning. Use the Eisenhower method as a starting point in determining which tasks you should delegate. After having determined which tasks to delegate, here’s a few things to take into consideration on how to go about the actual delegation process:

  1. Choose someone whose experience and skill set fits the task at hand;
  2. Make sure that the persons you’re delegating to can handle the additional workload;
  3. Clearly articulate the goals and desired outcome of the work to be done;
  4. Clearly define the boundaries of their intervention;
  5. Clearly identify the level of quality expected from the work to be done. Make sure that they can count on you to help them achieve that level of quality;
  6. Let them decide on the best approach in achieving the stated objectives, but provide support throughout the process through open communication, brainstorming or whatever techniques you both feel will be useful. By providing adequate support you’re also building commitment as they will see that you’re involved and are not simply offloading work (even though, to some degree, you are);
  7. Control the end result, not the approach. This is often one of the hardest things to do, mainly because you’re probably so proficient at the task you’re delegating that you have your own (often highly optimized) way of doing things. There are multiple ways to achieve the same goals. Let other people find their own way, so that you can focus on the quality of the resulting work;
  8. Finally, share credit and provide recognition. This is a critical factor as it will help to build trust, develop others and make sure that you can count on them to handle additional work in the future.

As a final note, pay special attention to the review and acceptance of the work done. Invest in this process. Think of it as a coaching/mentoring opportunity but be firm, assertive and make sure that the deliverables are in accordance with the quality bar defined in step 5.

Choosing the right tasks to delegate, choosing the right people to delegate them to and providing the right support is a truly win-win situation where you become an instrumental part in the development of others and you greatly enhance your individual contribution to the organization.

By empowering others, you empower yourself.

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3 Responses to Delegation – Zen And The Art Of Relinquishing Control

  1. Pingback: The Art of Delegation « Thousand Insights

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