Debugging Delegation

Posted 2 CommentsPosted in Leading
Reading time: 3 min.

There are four reasons people fail to delegate when they should. They

  1. Fear doing it incorrectly. “I don’t know what to delegate or how to delegate. What if I screw it up?”
  2. Fear being the boss. “If I tell them what to do, then they’ll think I’m being a bossy know-it-all and that’s bad. I want to be their friend. I’ll just do it for them.”
  3. Fear loss of control. “When I give away work, it comes back wrong. No matter how many times I explain it, they don’t get it. I might as well do it myself.”
  4. Fear loss of value. “If I give away the work, then what would I do? How will I earn my keep?”

When we fail to delegate we deplete our own resources, waste the time, talent, and potential of the people around us, and leave undone all the important, strategic work that our roles require us to do.

If you or someone you know is taking on too much, is too busy, is not getting to the higher-level work, or is showing signs of exhaustion then these tips will help:

  1. You can learn to delegate well. Here is a good template for delegation that delivers results. Do budget some time to teach and to give feedback, coaching, and direction; the return on that investment is high. Start small, seek feedback, and keep practicing.
  2. You can be the boss. When you fret about whether people will like or respect you as you play the role of boss, you are focused on yourself. “Turn the camera” and focus on them. Ask yourself, “What do they need in order to be successful?” (Hints: clarity, focus, feedback, context, and coaching to know where they fit, what to do, how to do it, and how to improve over time.) They need you to delegate. As soon as you turn the camera toward them, you will find being the boss who serves their needs very natural, authentic, and meaningful.
  3. Your work is always very valuable. It is understandable that you might question your value if others are doing the work. From a very early age, we were judged on what we accomplish. “Did you do your homework? Did you practice your piano? Did you make your bed, brush your teeth, remember you coat?…” We learn to get stuff done, to value ourselves for what we get done, and to manage our time so that we can get stuff done.  When you become a leader, things change. We judge leaders differently. Leaders help others get stuff done, are valued for creating an environment so that others can get stuff done, and manage their time so they can be available to help others.


In your corner,


How to Delegate for Results

Posted 2 CommentsPosted in Do=Natural flow of action, We=All Who Matter
Reading time: 4 min.

Have you been burned delegating work–especially complex, thinking work–to others? You give someone a chunk of work to do and it comes back wrong, incomplete, or late. Sometimes it doesn’t even come back! Happens to everyone. Then we tend to avoid delegating again thinking, “if I want it done right, I have to do it myself.”

The real problem is in how we delegate. We are busy. We don’t want to be perceived as bossy, condescending, or unhelpful. So we default to a “drive by delegation” in the form of a quick conversation, an email, or <<shudder>> a text.

Here’s how to structure a delegation to an employee, peer, partner, boss, vendor, client, child, parent, spouse, etc. to improve the results and timeliness of the work you delegate to others. Feel free to adjust the tone and level of detail to match the level of trust you have with the other person and in their ability to deliver.

  1. Set the stage: tell ’em why. Remind or inform the other person about the context. Discuss (versus just tell) these questions: What’s going on? How does this bit of work fit in? Why is it important to you, them, and others? (Example: “You know how the Muntabhi project is due next week? We are hoping to avoid a last minute rush because none of us wants to stay up late and risk delivering something crappy. Well, part of the work left to complete is an executive summary for the final report. I’d like you to take a crack at it.”
  2. Clarify the “what.” Describe the results (not necessarily the steps) you would like to see.  Ask, “How will we know when we have a very good result here?” In the above example, this “how will we know” discussion might yield answers such as, “It restates the project objective, lists major accomplishments and findings, and previews our recommendations. It is as brief as possible while still being readable. It is understandable to anyone in Muntabhi even if they have never had experience with this project.”
  3. Clarify the when. If you have a deadline, state it. If other steps (e.g. editing, approvals, rehearsals, etc.) must happen after this step, say so. If you don’t have a hard deadline, then negotiate; ask, “By when can you complete this?” Example: “We need to have the report done by next Tuesday so that the team has time to rehearse their presentation set for the Thursday. If you can get a first draft done by tomorrow evening, you and I can edit it on Thursday and send it for approvals and integration into the report on Friday. Will you be able to get a first draft done by tomorrow at 5?”
  4. Problem solve before the problems occur. Discuss the potential obstacles. Ask, “What do we foresee that would get in the way of you completing this work by that date and time?” Then problem-solve around the obstacles. Obstacles in our example might include unrelated tasks that are also due soon, family commitments, and lack of needed knowledge or experience.
  5. Request notice if things go astray. Ask the other person to inform you as soon as they know that something is–if it is–threatening their ability to get the desired results by the agreed time. Example: “Of course the unexpected will start sneaking up on us as soon as we’re done our chat. Let’s agree to handle any unexpected obstacles as soon as possible rather than waiting and perhaps losing our opportunity to manage them. Should anything come up, please deal with it. If you can’t, please give me a ‘heads up’ as soon as you know.”

Looks like a lot of work, right? It is. Maybe it’s just a bit too much; maybe we don’t have to say all that? Perhaps. And it’s worth it. The time you invest here (slowing down, avoiding the temptation to fire off an email request or “lob it over the cubicle wall”) will be paid back in better results that everyone will enjoy.


To your continued success,