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Many managers, leaders, and business owners struggle with overcoming obstacles to effective delegation. In some cases, they have engaged in ineffective delegation in the past, which leads them to believe it simply doesn’t work. In reality, they just need the tools and strategies to delegate effectively.
Delegation is one of the most challenging—and important—aspects of leadership. But with the right guidance, you can become adept in this crucial skill. We’ll review the key barriers to delegation and how to surmount them. But first, let’s explore how delegation will improve organizational effectiveness.
Good delegation allows you to use your time wisely. By redistributing some of the tasks on your plate, it allows you to focus on strategic priorities that grow the business.
But delegation doesn’t just benefit you and other leaders. It also helps junior team members to expand their capabilities and confidence. Employees can gradually build up to handling higher-level responsibilities when their managers and leaders entrust them with new types of tasks.
Managers, subordinates, and organizations themselves all contribute to delegation barriers. Let’s review the main challenges to effective delegation.
What causes managers’ and leaders’ failure to delegate, even though delegation would make their lives easier?
Delegation is something of a catch-22: Managers need more time in order to carve out more time. Delegating a task requires an upfront time investment since they must teach someone else how to carry out a task, which will pay off by giving them more time later on.
Perceived lack of time may especially affect managers during turbulent times. Leading through change requires the ability to delegate, but managers can get caught up in feelings of overwhelm.
Some supervisors have had little training in how to coach and mentor employees. They don’t feel confident in their own ability to teach a new skill—and they may not know where to begin.
Many managers feel anxious about relinquishing control over how things get done. They want to do everything themselves to make sure it “gets done right.” Even if they do attempt to delegate, they end up micromanaging, which wastes their time and frustrates employees.
On the other hand, some supervisors attempt to delegate but don’t realize they must remain accountable for making sure these tasks are completed. They must ensure that subordinates complete the tasks effectively, providing the support needed. Without doing so, attempts to delegate are likely to fail.
Several challenges on the part of subordinates can also hinder delegation, as follows.
Because some employees don’t show up with confidence, managers and leaders don’t view them as capable of tackling new challenges. If they start feeling and acting more confident, they’ll start receiving (and volunteering for) new types of tasks.
Delegation can fit neatly into a plan for enhancing employees’ skill sets. First, they need to create this plan alongside their manager. This developmental plan will define their goals and objectives for their work.
Managers and leaders need to know that subordinates will stick to the desired time frame before delegating a task to them. And subordinates must have time in their schedule for the task as well. Poor time management can prevent them from accepting new responsibilities.
If subordinates already have an unmanageable workload, delegating will be impossible. Or, if employees have trouble turning down a request from their manager, they’ll end up working unreasonable hours or producing unsatisfactory results.
Some subordinates take on tasks delegated by their manager—but then don’t know how to complete them. They lack the guidance and resources to carry them out. They may not know who to communicate with about a particular step, for instance.
An unhealthy company culture can discourage delegation. Perhaps managers, leaders, and owners are all workaholics who seek to prove their dedication by working long hours. In this case, a manager might fear being seen as less dedicated by delegating tasks. Or, if leadership responds harshly to failure, managers may feel the risks of delegating are too high.
Not having enough staff—or not distributing them according to areas of greatest need—can also prevent delegation.
Move beyond barriers to delegation with the following strategies.
Whether you’re a company owner, leader, or manager, understand that delegation is central to your job. If you’re a leader, model how to do it well. When supervisors see company leadership encouraging delegation rather than viewing it as shirking responsibilities, they’ll make a point of doing it.
If you’re a manager, review each employee’s development plan to pinpoint the types of tasks they can handle. Also consider employees’ areas of greatest interest. Then, strive to find tasks to delegate that will help employees grow in these ways.
Ask yourself, “Am I the only one who can carry out this task? Or is someone else capable of doing so with a little coaching?” Consider whether certain employees have some background in areas related to a particular task.
To begin, practice trusting those you supervise with smaller responsibilities. Then, they can work their way up to bigger ones. Your confidence in them will grow, and you’ll have a better sense of what each individual can actually handle.
Employees may need new tools and permissions to carry out a new task. Make sure they have access to necessary software, for instance. Also make sure they know whom to turn to with particular questions. Check in on them daily and provide clear feedback so they’re never left floundering.
Lack of time is a key reason why leaders avoid delegating. So, focus on learning to prioritize—and share these skills throughout your organization. Hold a short workshop highlighting time-management skills for leaders, like time-blocking and setting boundaries.
Do employees need more in-depth training to serve as a more valuable resource to their manager? Do supervisors need a next-level skill set? If so, provide the training needed. Then, encourage them to dive right in and apply their knowledge.
Organizations should examine whether it’s time to recruit more talent for particular areas of business. Do managers in a growing division have too few staff? If so, expanding their team could enable better delegation.
Through these strategies, you’ll overcome your hesitation or inability to delegate. By surmounting obstacles to effective delegation, you’ll then have more time and energy for your core responsibilities.