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Should I Delegate This? March 17, 2014

Posted by Tim Rodgers in Management & leadership, Organizational dynamics.
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The other day I joined a discussion on LinkedIn that got me thinking about when it might be appropriate to exert positional authority without trying to get buy-in: “Just do it my way and don’t ask questions.” Certainly there are critical situations where a rapid response is required, and there just isn’t time to brainstorm, solicit alternatives. and reach a consensus. However, I believe these situations are rare, and there’s always time to at least explain the logic behind the decision and listen to concerns. People may disagree, but their active support is more likely if they aren’t treated like children.

That got me thinking about delegation, which often follows a similar model. When we delegate a task we’re taking a calculated risk. We could do it ourselves, but we either don’t have time, or (in more enlightened organizations) we want to provide a learning opportunity for the other person. We may decide not to delegate if the successful completion of the task is particularly important to the business. That’s because there’s a chance that the other person will “fail,” perhaps by delivering less than what was required or missing the due date. We’d feel better about delegating if we had some confidence that the other person is going to do it exactly the way we would do it.

And that’s the problem: they’re probably aren’t going to do it exactly the way you would do it. If they’ve never done it before, they’ll stumble around a bit, and make mistakes, and maybe even “fail.” You may find yourself spending even more time monitoring and coaching and fixing their mistakes than you would have spent if you had just done it yourself.

Being a manager means not just taking responsibility for the performance of the team, but also optimizing and improving their performance. Delegating is part of the job description. There are definitely things you can do to improve the likelihood of success, including clarifying the objectives and constraints, and the delegated task should be a reasonable fit for the person’s skills and experience. If it’s really that important, maybe you should do it yourself, or insist that it be done in a specific way, but even then it’s still a learning opportunity for the team. If you’re always doing it yourself, or if everyone does it your way, you’re depriving the organization of the diversity of talent and ideas in your team.

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