Delegate? I haven’t the time!

Judith Chapman
September 2016

By Dr Judith Chapman, author of ‘You Can Lead: your complete guide to managing people and teams’.

As a manager you are snowed under with clients to call, schedules to complete, meetings to attend and people to manage. It’s even tougher if you are in your first leadership role, or have just stepped up to a new one with twice the workload. 

Delegation is often framed as the panacea to the age-old problem of insufficient time to get everything done. It sounds easy enough – hand chunks of work to team members, then sit back and do what you were hired to do – the thinking. 

Your life would be easier if you delegated more, so why is it so hard to do? If you are like many other women in leadership roles you may feel you are in a goldfish bowl -you lack support or feel the scrutiny of those who think you don’t belong. Because of the pressure you work hard to stay in control and on top of things. And that’s one reason why delegating might not feel like a safe thing to do.

My experience as a coach tells me there are two other causes of the failure to delegate. The first one, not letting go, is about lacking the confidence and trust in others to hand the work over. The second is about micromanaging. 

Letting go does not come naturally. You want the job to be done properly and it is hard to imagine that someone else would take the same care and effort as you would. Anyway, it’s usually quicker to do it yourself. And besides, as team leader you are accountable, so delegating can feel risky. 

But consider the costs of not delegating. You spend countless hours in the office, working late. Your sleep is interrupted by thoughts of tomorrow’s busy schedule. You wonder how long you can keep this up. Your team is also suffering. They want the challenge of more complex tasks and the chance to grow professionally. They wonder why you don’t trust them (because to them it is about trust).

Here are a few simple tips to help you become more comfortable with delegating:

  • Talk to each team member about their goals, interests and aspirations.
  • Show your belief in their ability by setting high expectations.
  • Treat each task you delegate as a learning opportunity for the team member.
  • Brief them thoroughly on the task, explain why it is important, and be clear about work standards and timeframes.
  • Resist the temptation to check in too often. Be the kind of leader people come to when they are unsure of what to do next.
  • Acknowledge good work, but also remember that people learn through making mistakes.

Mentoring is a great way to develop your delegation strategies and make them feel more natural. WOB has many great mentors available to you so why not give it a go?

Micromanaging is a destructive behavioural style and a serious problem for many leaders. Its hallmark is a reluctance to delegate, regardless of how competent team members are. Other signs include over-supervising, being picky about minor details, demanding a lot of people and working late.

People who micromanage often describe themselves as perfectionists with high standards or as simply wanting the work to be done properly. There is nothing wrong with having high standards but the truth about perfectionists is something different. For personal reasons that may go back a long time, they are strongly motivated to avoid mistakes above all else. They fear being judged harshly if they get something wrong and are caught out. Some also procrastinate – another strategy for avoiding errors. Despite their self-assured appearance, leaders like this are overly critical of themselves and might have low self-esteem. Micromanaging or taking excessive control is their way of reducing the anxiety that they feel. 

When leaders micromanage team members feel pressured, insecure and not trusted to make even routine decisions. It is a serious confidence sapper. Overcontrolling managers rob them of the opportunity to grow and undermine the trust that is vital to building productive team relationships.

Micromanaging is also a serious career derailer. If you see a little of yourself in the micromanaging style, especially if you describe yourself as a perfectionist, consider talking it through with a WOB mentor. There are plenty of experienced and understanding people ready to help you with solutions tailored to your needs.