5 tips for becoming a more effective delegator

I’ve been fortunate to work with many very good leaders over the years. Those who have been most successful have worked hard to surround themselves with good people. They also know that it takes more than having good people around you — it’s about tapping into and developing talent.

Lately I’ve been encountering many senior level leaders who have talented teams but are failing to take advantage of that talent. I’m talking about a CEO who feels the need to edit memos two or three levels down the organization. Or a GM who has to run everything by the business owner. Or a VP who is stripped of authority because she needs to check with the president on the simplest of matters. These are very highly paid, talented leaders who are not allowed to make decisions and move the business forward.

The reasons given for failing to delegate and maintaining tight control are many (e.g., can’t afford to make mistakes; my board expects me to have these answers, so I have to stay involved; I don’t trust it will be done the way it needs to be). While I can empathize with some of the reasons (justifications) provided, the ramifications are far-reaching (and often eye-opening for the leaders who maintain this tight control).

This is what I’ve been hearing from the leaders who report directly or indirectly to these control freaks:

  • “I just want to add value. It is so demotivating to have to run every decision by X.”
  • “I’m talking to a head-hunter right now. I can’t make any decisions. It sounds silly, but I’m making way too much money to be a puppet. If I could just live with that it would be fine. But I want to make a difference where I work.”
  •  “It strips me of all credibility. My direct reports know that I’m not really in charge of this project.”

So to those leaders who have tight-fisted control and fail to delegate either responsibility or authority — enough already! It’s time to delegate.



Here are a few tips for helping you move down the path of letting go and becoming a more effective delegator (and ultimately a more effective leader):

  1. Increase your awareness. Why do you maintain this level of control? What reasons do you use for failing to delegate? Are the reasons real or perceived? Once you determine the reasons, think about ways to overcome the obstacles. For example, if trust is lacking, how do you build a trusting relationship with this person? Just because something happened in the past, why must it happen again in the future?
  2. Examine the consequences of failing to delegate. What are some of the unintended consequences that result from your actions?
  3. Think bigger picture. How do your behaviors affect the business? What kind of environment are your actions creating? How are you helping (or hurting) the organization by staying involved in everything?
  4. Focus on development. Establish the kind of rapport, trust, and interest in development that sets a good foundation for handing responsibility and authority to others.
  5. Set clear expectations regarding communication. Just because you delegate (or push authority down to the appropriate level) doesn’t mean you need to wash your hands of the assignment. Be clear about what you need to know and in what time frame. Focus on communicating versus doing.

When you do decide to delegate, analyze your needs and have a clear objective. Make sure the people you delegate work to understand the expectations. Clarify the responsibility and time frame. Communicate well and often — a clear check-in process will save time and heartache.

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