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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.