1 tip for more effective delegation

Companies benefit from managers who can delegate work effectively. For the sake of your organization (and your sanity), it’s time to let go.

At some point all managers learn — or should learn — that they need to delegate projects and tasks to members of their team. Frequently, however, those in management roles don’t learn how to effectively delegate, which can harm the growth of the organization and your employees, and also drive managers to the brink of a nervous breakdown.

Delegation isn’t easy because letting go of control isn’t easy. Sure, a manager might hand over tasks to his team so he doesn’t have to do them himself. That’s clearly not delegation, says Terry Siebert, president of Dale Carnegie Training and Siebert Associates Inc., that’s just dumping your work on somebody.

Actual effective delegation that makes someone a better leader and allows his or her team to grow takes more time and effort, and there are a number of reasons Siebert notes it’s hard to achieve.

“There’s this mindset that ‘I’m the only one who is capable of doing it,’” Siebert explains. “You’re just convinced the other person cannot do it nearly as good or fast as you, so it takes time to actually let go.”

If your reputation as a manager is on the line, letting go can be even more difficult. “I think the biggest obstacle is the fear that a person cannot do the job,” Siebert says. “That can be a real fear but in many cases it’s an imagined fear.”

What you might really be afraid of is your employee doing too good a job and making you look bad, Siebert hypothesizes. That’s a bad situation to find yourself in because it means you’re losing sight of the broader goals of your organization, as well as your role as a leader, which is largely to foster the growth of your employees to make them and the company stronger.

Effective delegation is also difficult to achieve because people thrust into management roles often just flat out don’t know how to delegate.

“Here’s somebody who’s been running a machine in a manufacturing environment and now they’re in charge of six people running six machines,” Siebert postulates. “It’s a lot different running a machine than it is delegating and getting the most productivity out of those six people.

“Likewise, you’ve got the best salesperson in the world and somebody says why don’t we turn her into the sales manager? Well, the skill set that made that person the best salesperson in the world is not necessarily the same skill set that you need to motivate other people.”

Siebert refers to a friend who manages about 200 engineers. The friend has a master’s degree in software engineering himself. “The thing that’s interesting is when I asked my buddy how much of his time [at work] is spent using his depth of knowledge with the degree that he earned, he said maybe about 10%. I said, are you confirming that the other 90% might have something to do with people? He said absolutely. The further you go [in your career] the more that ratio changes from being a doer to being a delegator.”

So, what’s Siebert’s advice for managers seeking to delegate work effectively? It actually comes from a Gen. George S. Patton quote: “Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.”

“Let that sink in a little bit,” Siebert advises. “Obviously, if somebody is brand new to a whole situation you’re going to be spending more time with them to show them how to do things. But if it’s really done right the manager has more time to do the more strategic aspects of the job without being bogged down in the details of doing it, while at the same time the employee has got a project or job to do that’s going to give her a chance to grow, to shine, and learn something that she might not otherwise have had an opportunity to learn.”

It all starts with having a conversation with your employee. “Let’s just say there’s a job to be done,” explains Siebert. “The manager can do it with her eyes closed, walking backward. But the manager says, ‘Hey wait a minute. Here’s an opportunity to maybe have somebody else do a little bit of growing.’

“It goes back to that Patton quote,” continues Siebert. “You tell your employee what needs to get done and provide the guidelines, but then you say what you’d like to have happen is for the employee to come up with a plan for how he’s going to accomplish the goal. In other words, you’re putting that responsibility on the shoulders of the person who you’re giving that opportunity to, but you’re also saying while you’re doing it that you trust him or her to do the job without you having to micromanage.”

Siebert will offer a number of additional tools for more effective delegation during the IB Seminar Series presentation “The Foundation for Effective Leadership” on Feb. 7 from 9–11 a.m. at the Alliant Energy Center.

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