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  • Natasha Harvey

I know I should delegate, but why is it so hard to hand things over?


A boss demonstrating delegation with a member of her team

As a leadership coach, I often have conversations with clients about the importance of delegation and why it’s such a fundamental skill to have. While the ability to delegate is something expected of most leaders, it's also one of the most challenging skills to master.

 

Contrary to what many people seem to believe, delegation isn’t about offloading projects and tasks to others; it's a strategic tool for empowering team members, driving greater productivity within the team and helping individuals to grow. Despite its benefits, many leaders struggle to delegate effectively. According to a survey by the Chartered Management Institute, a staggering 56% of UK managers find delegation difficult. So, what's holding them back?

 

One of the primary reasons for this difficulty is the fear of losing control. As leaders, we often feel that we must oversee every aspect of a project to ensure it meets our standards. However, this sort of micromanagement approach can lead to demotivated team members and a fast track to our own burnout.

 

A client working within a France-based tech firm was struggling and feeling overwhelmed with their workload. In our first session, I asked him to use a metaphor to describe their leadership style today and the style they aspired to in 6 months’ time. He shared an image of his current style as being like a running coach. However, this coach wasn’t on the side-lines supporting the athletes but literally carrying them around the track and over the finish line. “This is where I am now” he said. "It’s exhausting. I have no time to look after the long-term, strategic projects because all my time is spent in the weeds diving into the everyday issues with a majority of my team members.” My client was reluctant to delegate tasks to his team, fearing that they wouldn't meet the high standards he required. Consequently, he found himself overwhelmed with work, leading to increased stress. It was only when he learned to trust his team and delegate effectively that he experienced a significant improvement in his workload, work-life balance, and team performance.


"It’s exhausting. I have no time to look after the long-term, strategic projects because all my time is spent in the weeds diving into the everyday issues with a majority of my team members.”

 

Another common barrier to delegation is the belief that it's quicker to do things ourselves. While it may seem more efficient in the short term to handle tasks solo, it's unsustainable in the long run. Delegating tasks not only frees up time for leaders to focus on high-value activities but also provides developmental opportunities for team members.

 

Another client, an account director within a marketing organisation used to single handedly prepare and deliver all client presentations herself until she received feedback that not all her team members found her behaviour frustrating. When she started to explore this further, she understood that some individuals were looking for stretch opportunities to push themselves and grow their skillset. They felt they were missing out on learning opportunities because my client wasn’t giving them the chance to be interacting with clients and learning the ropes. Having reflected on what that would mean for herself and her team members, and what needed to change, she worked with the team to get them to a place where they could start to prepare and lead client presentations themselves. Not only did she alleviate her own workload but also boosted her team's confidence and skill set.

 

So, how can leaders overcome these barriers and harness the power of delegation?

 

All this begins with building awareness about our leadership style and recognising the impact we’re having on ourselves, our team and sometimes the organisation more broadly. Once we’ve identified what might be holding us back, we need to start building trust and open communication with and within the team. By clearly articulating expectations, providing regular support and feedback, we can empower team members and give them the safe space to develop further and to deliver results. Understanding each team member's strengths and weaknesses will enable tasks to be delegated effectively and ensure successful outcomes.

 

We also need to be willing to let go of perfectionism and accept that mistakes will happen along the way. Delegation and empowerment are about setting the vision, being clear on expectations, ensuring team members have the strengths, tools and potential required for the task, and then supporting them with what they need to reach the outcome. It’s not 'about making sure it’s get done my way' as clients sometimes admit they’re guilty of doing.

 

Delegation is a powerful tool for driving productivity, empowering teams, and fostering their growth. By overcoming barriers such as the fear of losing control and the belief that it's quicker to do things ourselves, we can unlock the full potential of delegation and help our teams rise to success.

 

 

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