Leadership and the art of delegation

What separates great leaders from ordinary ones is the way they delegate, says Carolyn Stevens


Have you ever seen a musical conductor put his baton down, climb into the orchestra pit and go and chat with the violinist about how they should hold their bow, or talk with those in the woodwind section about how they need to use circular breathing techniques?

As far as I can tell that’s not something that great conductors do.

A great conductor knows that their role is to create musical harmony by indicating, with gestures, who plays what, when and how.

Harmony and productivity

Leaders, who maximise their team members’ discretionary effort and productivity, also create harmony when they align with the team’s vision and values.

Let’s look more closely at the alignment between great conductors and great leaders

  • Just like conductors interpret the music beyond the notes—great leaders hold a strategic view of the game plan.
  • Just like conductors plan their orchestra’s repertoire—great leaders work with their team members to plan and agree goals and KPIs [Key Performance Indicators].
  • Just like conductors have their musicians collaborating and coordinating—great leaders have their team members leveraging off one another and working together.
  • Just like conductors guide musicians to play their instruments magnificently—great leaders guide their team members to maximise their impact and surpass their targets.

Here’s the cruncher…

Great conductors support their musicians from their podium, which is outside the orchestra pit; so also great leaders don’t climb into the ‘orchestra pit’ and deep-dive into projects they’ve delegated.

They allow their team members to successfully do their jobs by effectively delegating, agreeing the check-points and stepping away.

I know, I know… You’re under pressure to produce. And when you’re feeling pressured, micromanaging can become irresistible. Deep-diving is often way too tempting when you’re concerned about how the targets are going to be met.

But let’s have real clarity about this: The costs of micromanaging are huge!

What’s so bad about deep-diving into projects?

When your team members know that you’re going to step-in, it’s highly likely that they’ll do some or all of the following:

  • Switch off their brain and stop showing initiative.
  • Lose confidence in their abilities and capacity to do a good job.
  • Experience diminished motivation and will to succeed.
  • Not do more than they have to do, i.e. show little discretionary effort.
  • Negatively impact the motivation and discretionary effort of those they interact with.
  • Have stunted learning and development and therefore curtail their career.
  • Leave in search of a leader who’ll let them take responsibility and be accountable for their work.

We could continue but I think the point is made. Micromanaging has a serious negative impact on how successfully you lead your team and on the results that they create!

What drives a micromanaging habit?

If you’ve had a tendency to micromanage, I recommend that, first up, you figure out what’s been stopping you from letting go and letting your team members do their jobs…

Do you frequently drop by a team member’s desk, or email or ring them, to check on where they’re up to because:

  • Your natural tendency is to dig into the details, and/or
  • You don’t believe your team members are capable, and/or
  • You haven’t learned to trust that other people can do stuff, and/or
  • You have an out-of-control need to control what’s going on?

Your leadership call to action

What can you do to develop new habits that mean you’re able to do your job and let your team members do theirs?

  • Become a superb delegator [See Delegate it right].
  • Mentor, coach, counsel and/or develop a team member who hasn’t yet developed the competencies to do their job proficiently.
  • If you need to, performance manage them so that something changes. Please don’t ignore a performance problem because of your inclination to avoid having a difficult conversation. If someone’s not doing their job well enough, deal with it.

leadership-and-the-art-of-delegation-2-350x224The costs are enormous when a leader doesn’t delegate like a pro

Leaders, even seasoned ones, commonly don’t delegate enough. Some leaders delegate too much. And lots of leaders don’t delegate effectively.

If you’re not delegating enough:

  • You end up with too much on your own plate, and insufficient time to take care of the bigger picture items.
  • You’re not taking full advantage of the capabilities and potential of your team members, which impairs their effectiveness.
  • You’re not developing your team members, resulting in deceased motivation and increased staff turnover.
  • You’re not fully engaging your team members, resulting in productivity, morale and staff turnover issues.

If you’re delegating too much:

  • Sound decision-making and performance targets might be at risk.
  • You might be perceived as being disinterested, unavailable, detached and uncaring, again resulting in motivation, morale and staff turnover issues.

If you’re delegating the right amount but not delegating effectively:

  • Chances are it’ll be hard work to get the outcomes you want.
  • If you’re micromanaging, you’ll be creating the same costs as if you weren’t delegating enough.

The amount you delegate—here’s a quick fix to get that right

How can you have certainty that you’re getting the amount you delegate right?

Now here’s a novel thought—Ask each of your team members:

  • Where would you like me to back off and leave you to get the job done?
  • For you, where am I looking over your shoulder too much?
  • Where are you up for more responsibility?
  • What do you see me doing that I could hand over to you?

Delegate it right

Here’s a quick fix to get your delegation
method right

  • Delegate the objective—not the procedure.
    Create space for your team member to assume responsibility suited to their skills and experience.
  • Have a dialogue and agree the criteria for the project.
    Jointly determine what are the quality, quantity, resources, authority and time frame requirements.
  • Jointly decide the checkpoints.
    Before any work starts, work out the progress reporting timeline with your team member.
  • Appreciate and acknowledge.
    Let them know that you appreciate their efforts and, along the way, acknowledge what you like a lot, and what you like less, about their work.

This was first published in the March 2014 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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Carolyn Stevens
Carolyn Stevens works with leaders who are in a hurry to boost their success. She has over 25 years experience in the area of human resource development. She’s results-oriented and able to draw on an eclectic array of approaches and techniques to suit each executive, leader or team’s situation. Check more about her at http://leadingperformance.com.au