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The Three Most Common Fears About Delegation: Debunked

Here's how to address and move on from the common reasons for not trusting your work with others.

The Three Most Common Fears About Delegation: Debunked
[Photo: Flickr user Chang Liu]

"I know, I really should ask for some more help and delegate," lamented a recent client. "But . . ."
Ah. There it is. The big "But" was about to get in the way again.

How often have you resisted the idea of delegating some of your work? You may understand—at least intellectually—that delegating is a powerful skill that can boost productivity and build cohesive teams, yet many of us continue to resist.

Your resistance is rooted in fear. It’s time to face that fear; it’s time to probe deeper into that fear so that you can identify the underlying cause of your resistance. When you choose to boldly address the three most common reasons for resistance—psychological, organizational, and technical, then you can face that fear about delegation.

Psychological Resistance—The Urge to Do It all

The most common obstacle to delegating is psychological—the insistence, either conscious or subconscious—on doing everything yourself.

The insistence is really resistance. The first step in overcoming this resistance is to ask yourself what do you lack faith in. My recent client lacked faith in her value to the organization. She insisted on "doing it all" to prove her worth to the organization, and that meant she resisted the idea of delegating. Her sense of worth was central to her identity. Once she recognized this psychological stumbling block, she was able to acknowledge it, explore its meaning to her, and evaluate the reality behind it.

The second step in overcoming psychological resistance is to look at your project and task list and decide which tasks you will never delegate. For example, these may include tasks and projects that align with why your organization hired you, where you are the only person in the organization with the knowledge, skills, and expertise to complete the work and your unique abilities are highlighted, or tasks and projects that bring you meaning and joy.

This liberating exercise will help you get clear about your value and the unique contributions you make to your organization. And separating the essential tasks from the ones you can consider passing on to others will also help silence that voice in your head telling you that you must do it all.

Organizational Resistance—A Shortage of Resources

In many organizations today, resources are stretched thin, budget dollars scarce, and one person is often doing work that used to be handled by two or more. Under these circumstances, being told to delegate may feel like a bad joke. "Delegate? I’d love to do it! But to whom?"

This is the second reason many people resist delegation—they lack the human resources support needed to complete the work.

If this is the reality in your organization, it may be time to get a little creative. Can you hire an intern? Can a temporary worker take on a task that has been bottlenecking your progress? Can you outsource some of the work to a virtual assistant—an online assistant, working remotely, who can handle specific assignments on either a per-task or hourly basis, thereby saving you the costs of a part-time or full-time employee? Can you partner with another division or department of your company—or even with an outside firm—and split the cost for a project that will benefit both organizations? Get creative and you can find an alternative resource solution.

Technical Resistance—Three Principles for Effective Delegation

The final reason many people resist delegating is simple lack of technical know-how of how to delegate. You have failed miserably when delegating in the past—the work was flawed or late, or the process of delegating proved so difficult and time-consuming that doing the work itself would have been faster and easier. Discouraged by results like these, you give up on the whole idea of delegating. If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself became your mantra.

Unfortunately, this attitude will trap you permanently in a world of extreme busyness, unable to call on others to complement your skills and prevent you from developing your team members. So how do you effectively and efficiently delegate? Follow these three steps.

1. Be clear on the goal and open on the path.
Explicitly define the purpose behind the project or task. Make sure the goals are measurable and specific; paint a vivid picture for the person assuming the project of what success will look like. At the same time, avoid defining or dictating in minute detail how the task is to be completed. This is demoralizing, ineffective, and stifles creativity and innovation. Provide assistance and guidance, but only if it’s needed. The goal is to delegate, not to micro-manage. You want to allow your team members the space to innovate and make their own unique contributions to the work.

2. Set people up for success.
Stop making flawed assumptions when you delegate a task. Ask yourself, "Where am I making assumptions about the skills and knowledge of the person to whom I am delegating the task or project? Have I assumed that they are clear on the goals of the project? Have I assumed that they understand the terms I am using, that they have the skills and knowledge needed or the time, tools, and other resources required?" Check your assumptions. When they do not match reality, take steps to fill the gaps by providing the missing knowledge, skills, tools, and resources. If you don’t, you may end up with a sub-par result.

3. Follow up.
The key for effective follow-up is not to wait until the last minute. Following up prior to the due date of the task or project provides an opportunity for you to help remove roadblocks that might prevent timely completion of the project or lead to work that is inaccurate or incomplete. Equally critical is clear, constructive feedback after the project is completed. If you delegate, delegate, and delegate while never acknowledging the time and effort your team member is dedicating to the work and its positive impact on the team, your team member may begin to feel less valued and may also begin to lose trust in you. By contrast, concrete, helpful feedback, including both praise for every positive and (when necessary) critical suggestions for improvement on future projects, demonstrates to your team member that you are paying attention to their work and that you value their contributions.

Delegation is one of your most crucial productivity skills. Face your fears about delegation and address your area of delegation resistance to cultivate trust in your workplace. When you leverage the talents of your team members and colleagues, you can start delegating and stop struggling to handle your workload all alone.

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