How To Learn To Delegate Without Giving Up All Your Control

You aren't helping anyone when you try to do everything yourself. Giving up control can feel scary, but it's easier if you create a good system.

In the seemingly never-ending comparison between genders in leadership and management, a 2013 American Express OPEN Mindset Survey found that only 26% of women entrepreneurs rate themselves as excellent delegators. Seventy percent say they are "hands-on" leaders, even though they recognize that sharing responsibility might be beneficial to their companies.

So, women are terrible at delegating. Or are they? Survey author Julie R. Weeks, founder of Empire, Michigan-based Womenable, a women’s leadership consultancy, says that women tend to be harsher than men when evaluating themselves. Since this was a women-only survey, it’s hard to say what the delegation differential really is.

Weeks says she does find that many women are more protective of tasks and prone to multitasking. In her experience, she finds that men tend to care less who does the work as long as it gets done.

Anne O’Brien Carelli author of The Truth about Supervision: Coaching, Teamwork, Interviewing, Appraisals, 360⁰ Assessments, Delegation, and Recognition and founder of Delmar, N.Y., human resource consulting firm Carelli & Associates says delegation is less a gender issue and more a business owner and leadership issue.

"It’s true for both men and women that, if you’ve built a business from the ground up, you really hesitate to trust your ‘child’ with anyone else," she says.

One thing on which most everyone agrees: You can’t do everything yourself and expect your business—or your career, for that matter—to grow. Delegation is essential to free you to spend your time in the best possible ways while developing the skills of your employees. Here’s how everyone can do it better.

Separate "delegation" and "task assignment."

Delegation doesn’t mean offloading your grunt work onto the nearest possible bystander. Carelli makes a distinction between distributing tasks that need to be done among the most appropriate people to do them and delegating tasks and projects that will help employees grow.

Find someone better than you.

Successful delegation requires matching the job or project at hand with the best possible person to do it, says Waterford, Connecticut, Performance Coach Nancy D. Butler, author of Above All Else: Success in Life and Business. Who has the skills, time and resources to complete the job successfully?

Butler says many people are afraid to find others who are better at certain tasks than they are because they view it as a weakness. Actually, she says finding and hiring people who are better than you at certain tasks is essential to the success of any business or career.

"Imagine a business where everyone is doing what they're best at and enjoy. What a great place to work would it be and how much more efficient it would be if you were doing the things that you're really best at, you really enjoy? Employees would be happier and the clients and customers would feel and see it, too," she says.

Establish checks, balances, and measures.

Butler says delegation doesn’t mean abdication—you need to be clear about the project specifics, your expectations, and the desired outcome. Set check-in points or milestones where you can evaluate progress and make corrections, if necessary, Butler says.

"Giving up control of course can be scary, but if you have a good system in place, it’s less so," she says.

Let go of the small stuff.

Be clear about the outcome you expect and any essential parts of the work process. Then, let go, Butler advises. As long as the project is progressing well, don’t be as concerned with how the work gets done. Micromanaging will waste your time and hurt morale. Focus on outcomes, not on process, she says.

Share—or step out of—the spotlight.

After a delegated project has been successfully completed, give credit for a job well done, Carelli says. She recalls a time when she organized a conference for an international human rights organization. She reluctantly delegated the speakers’ travel arrangements to an intern, who created her own system of managing the complex project.

Everyone got to the conference successfully. When Carelli introduced her intern at the event, the woman got a standing ovation. Recognition for a job well done motivates both the employee who receives the recognition and the rest of the team who sees that you’re not taking credit for someone else’s work, she says. And it will give more employees incentive to take on tasks or projects the next time you need to delegate them, she says.

[Image via Shutterstock]

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2 Comments

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  • Cloud it.

    Working with systems that allow you to forward tasks to others - like accounting, invoicing and receipting with Xero.com, Harvestapp.com, combined with smart process management like 1Password.com to allocate the access rights to your authorised people allows you to control and manage them without them manipulating your time or office space. They can fall into line from afar. Making sure they use protocols put in place to manage the processes you have established for them and others with filing systems like Dropbox.com and using project management tools for even small to medium sized projects like those by 37signals.com (an incredible software house that write everything in Ruby on Rails and look at problems like no other company) allows you to monitor project progress no matter how crazy it is.

    Plan stuff. Using systems like LudicChart.com to design your workflow to minute detail - allows you to study it and make sure you kill the problem, then forward the process.