As we move upwards in an organization, our perspective begins to change, sometimes in ways that can feel uncomfortable. Most people begin working in some technical skill area where they can reliably produce desired outcomes based largely on their own performance.
In my career, I was a public relations practitioner, skilled at media relations, drafting news releases, organizing events and news conferences, etc. Of course that also required the skill of collaborating with others, but I wasn’t responsible for their performance. However, as my mastery of public relations increased into the areas of consulting and selling, I started moving up the ladder until eventually I was the general manager of the organization.
That’s when I hit the wall! Suddenly, I realized I had been catapulted beyond my area of competence. I really had no idea how to “manage” others and how to “delegate” responsibility effectively to other players. So what did I do? I sucked most of the responsibility up to myself, continuing to work on things that demanded my technical expertise, while occasionally handing out a few “tasks” to others. Needless to say I suffered hugely as a manager until I learned the difficult lesson that (as my coach at the time said to me) “You need to find new ways of being important.”
The new role, the “new way of being important” that I learned was the role of leader, orchestrator, delegator. The new role of developing others instead of simply being a technical expert.The new role of working through others, not doing all the work myself. Imagine a symphony orchestra conductor trying to play all the instruments. That is what many new managers find themselves trying to do and its not a highly effective approach, to say the least!
Many new managers fail to achieve their potential because they don’t delegate effectively and they don’t really understand what delegation is all about. Delegating is so critically important that for many aspiring managers it literally becomes their “Achilles Heel”—their fatal weak spot that can make or break their careers. So let’s examine six major reasons that managers fail to delegate effectively.
1. Bad News First: The Primary Role of a Delegator is to DEVELOP Others. This is a fundamental reality that the majority of managers don’t understand…or perhaps don’t want to understand. Because “developing others” is not one of the technical skills that got them promoted to a manager in the first place.
Developing others, helping them grow and achieve puts them outside their Comfort Zone and so this role is often actively resisted. Delegation, plus ongoing coaching is the way to develop others to become as strong as, or even stronger than oneself. And the benefit of developing others is that it assures they can take over your job so you can be promoted to an even more senior role. Thus, the skill of developing others, and the skill of delegating responsibility to others provides the pathway to ongoing advancement. And, you are not bringing others a ‘burden’---you are in fact bringing them a growth opportunity.
2. Instead of Delegating they “Dump-legate.” The word delegate in English comes from the Latin verb delegare, which means to “un-tie.” So literally, to delegate is to “un-tie” yourself from a chunk of responsibility, entrusting it to another instead. But many managers seem to believe that the way to delegate is to simply “dump” the responsibility on another person, wash their hands and walk away. That is the most unskillful thing any manager could do and, like a time bomb, sooner or later it is guaranteed to blow up in their face.
Skillful delegation does involve entrusting a task to another, and, it also implies that the delegator stays connected to the other person throughout the process, being available for feedback, advice, coaching and whatever assistance is required. It means maintaining an active interest in the person with the goal of ensuring their success. It means that both parties are “tied” to the success of the project, in a committed spirit of partnership. Have you been “dumped” on in the past? Or have you dumped something on others? If so, I bet it didn’t feel like you were in a partnership.
3. Failing to Explain the Big Picture. If you have been to business school you have probably studied “Situational Leadership.” This means that one learns to entrust responsibility to others based on their degree of expertise, staying more closely connected to those with little experience, and learning to be more relaxed around those with proven expertise.