Why We Won’t Delegate

Morag Barrett
Morag Barrett is sought out speaker and the author of the bestselling book "Cultivate: The Power of Winning Relationships." She is also the founder and CEO of www.SkyeTeam.com, an international HR consulting and leadership development company. Morag’s experience ranges from senior executive coaching to developing leaders and teams across Europe, America and Asia. SkyeTeam works with clients in a range of industries including: Healthcare, Telecoms, Mining, Manufacturing, Engineering, and Technology. She's a regular contributor to the American Management Association, Entrepreneur.com and CIO.com.
Morag Barrett

@skyemorag

I help organizations, teams & individuals get unstuck | leadership development | Keynote Speaker | Author 'Cultivate. The Power of Winning Relationships'
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Morag Barrett
Morag Barrett

Do You Delegate?

Some organizational problems have deep roots. The inability to delegate is a perfect example. I continually hear from managers and leaders who struggle to ‘let-go’, who don’t (or won’t) delegate and want to get better at delegating to their teams. However, it would appear that delegation is easier said and done. Many managers seem to believe that they know better. For one reason or another they cling to all decision making – unwilling to involve anyone else for any reason. They don’t delegate.

To an outsider, the need to delegate seems like a no-brainer. Many hands make light work. We’re taught this from our childhood. The odd thing is that the art of delegation seems to be something that either comes naturally or doesn’t happen at all. In most cases, it’s the latter.

Below are five excuses for why we won’t delegate. See how many of them you’re guilty of.

  1. We’ve convinced ourselves that the act of delegation represents a failure on our part. This comes from a false idea that you ought to be able to do it all. In your mind, the inability to do so, no matter what the reason, is the result of some deficiency; and so to delegate is to concede defeat. In other words you only delegate because you can’t cope with your workload.

The truth is that you can’t do it all. That’s why you’re a manager. It’s your job to manage others as they do what they can; so stop beating yourself up over it. Count your blessings. The fact that you have someone to delegate it to and the authority to do so means that even your organization recognizes that that’s what is required.

  1. The quality of someone else’s work will be substandard when compared to yours. You may imagine that no one can do the job as well as you can; and as you’re still responsible if it isn’t done right; you decide that rather than take the risk, you’ll do it yourself instead. Of course, because you can’t do it all, you slip dangerously behind; and so not only does the quality suffer, you risk destroying your career as well as your health.

The truth is that when you do get sick, then there’s no one else who is in a position to take on the work that is unfinished. This makes you look even more incompetent. It’s worth thinking about your legacy, too. Do you want to be remembered for training people who could keep your part going in your absence, or because they floundered because you failed to teach them how?

  1. But I’ll lose control if I delegate. Not only do you see yourself as a failure if you delegate and prove that you are when you, as the bottleneck, you keep work from being completed, but you’re convinced that if you do give someone else the job, then you’ll lose control of it.

The truth is that you must relinquish some control in order for people to grow. It’s like leaving the training wheels on your kid’s bicycle so that he won’t ever fall over. And just as in that situation, you are trying to micromanage the process. Everything has to be done, but done your way.

  1. There’s also your false belief that it will take as long or longer to explain how to do it as it will to do it yourself. Let’s say for the sake of argument that you’re right. The question is not, “Can you do it?” Instead, it’s “Is this the best use of your time?” As a manager, there will be many things that you can do. You may be able to do much of what your subordinates do; but if all you did was that, then there would be no reason for you to be a manager. If you’re determined to do it yourself, then do yourself and your organization a big favor. Go down to the HR office, tell them that you’re sorry to bother them, but that you’re not cut out to be a manager.

If, however, you believe that you are a manager, then a good question to ask is, “How could I use delegation as an opportunity for one or more people in my charge to grow?” You should always be looking for ways to make this happen. Then you can celebrate together when they succeed.

  1. The last excuse is that the organization won’t reward you if you delegate. Very likely, this will be the case; especially in one that has a lot of hierarchy. The public sector is a good example of this. It’s still an excuse, however, so it doesn’t let you off the hook.

Think of delegation as part of your succession planning. You’re teaching those you supervise how to accomplish more; how to go beyond their job description; maybe even to fulfill some of yours. It may seem counterintuitive, but the faster you train your replacement, the sooner you can move onto other things, even if they’re within your same job. That’s because it’s only by doing so that you’re able to demonstrate that your managerial capabilities exceed your current responsibilities.