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You’re getting it wrong! How bad delegating can harm your business

How delegating inappropriately can do more harm than good.

Marshall Goldsmith, Entrepreneur, 09 February 2015  Share  0 comments  Print

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When C-level executives are asked what change they could make to become a more effective leader, one of the most common answers is, ‘I need to delegate more!’

My caution to these executives is always the same: Don’t delegate more. Delegate more effectively.

Related: Get your delegation down to a fine art

Delegation is not a quality like ‘demonstrating integrity’ or ‘complying with the law.’ Honest, ethical and legal behaviour is always appropriate – delegation isn’t. Inappropriate delegation can do more harm than good.

I saw an extreme example of the ‘empowerment is good’ flaw in a very large US company. The CEO naïvely believed that his employees would always rise to the occasion and learn through mistakes they made.

He promoted people to levels that were far beyond their capabilities. Perhaps they could learn from their mistakes when the mistakes cost thousands of dollars, but the company went bankrupt when the mistakes cost millions.

The root of delegating dissatisfaction

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When feedback from direct reports indicates that a manager needs to delegate more effectively, they may feel that their leader is micro-managing or getting overly involved with subordinates; or they may not feel micro-managed at all, but see their leader engaged in tasks that could be done effectively by a subordinate.

Help leaders ensure effective delegation

Have each direct report list their key responsibilities and schedule one-on-one sessions with them.

Review each responsibility and ask:

  • Are there cases where you believe that I get too involved?’
  • Are there cases when I need to get more involved?’
  • When leaders go through this exercise, they almost always find that in some cases, more delegation is wanted, and in others it is not.  In fact, more help is needed.

Ask each direct report:

  • Do you ever see me working on tasks that someone at my level doesn’t need to do?’
  • ‘Are there areas where I can help other people develop, and give myself more time to focus on strategy and long-term planning?’

Direct reports will come up with great suggestions. For example, team management has emerged as an area where letting go can both free up executive time and help develop direct reports.

Team meeting management can usually be delegated on a rotating basis to direct reports. This helps direct reports understand the agendas of the peer team members.

In one example, a CEO was frequently travelling and wouldn’t schedule team meetings when he was on the road, resulting in projects falling behind.

A team member suggested he didn’t have to be present at every meeting and he was pleasantly surprised that decisions that involved cross-divisional co-operation were made effectively without involving him.

Another advantage was that his direct reports were getting on-the-job training for larger responsibilities in the future.

On the other side of the coin, a division president learnt that his employees consistently wanted more direction on one key topic.

Related: What is too much delegation

The company was operating in a rapidly changing environment. His direct reports didn’t need technical details. They needed to know how their work was fitting into the larger strategy of the corporation and how their efforts were aligned with their peers.

By establishing regular bi-monthly check-in meetings with each person, the president was able to increase the effectiveness of the team and help them build better relationships across the company.

Ask yourself

When are you getting too involved? When do you need to get more involved? First ask yourself these tough questions, then ask those working with you. 

The answers may save you time and increase your team’s effectiveness.

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About the author

Marshall Goldsmith, Entrepreneur

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