Delegation is More than Skin Deep

Delegation is more than simply telling or asking someone to do something you would normally do. If that was all, then we really wouldn’t struggle with delegation. Let’s take a look at what underlies the difficulty of delegation.

A barrier to delegation occurs when we perceive delegation as giving up on responsibility, accountability, control or even giving up our identity. Delegating an activity to someone else means that it was an activity for which you had the original responsibility to complete and someone will be holding you accountable if it doesn’t get done. Giving up control means there is a potential that it will not get done. However, I might suggest that given your current workload, it’s more likely to get done if you delegate it–but it will likely be done differently than you would do it. Finally, when we are very good at something or have been doing it for a long time, it becomes part of our identity. Delegating that kind of activity feels like giving up part of ourselves. This can feel threatening, and is the largest internal barrier for not delegating.

Even further from being correct, is the external barrier of believing others will view delegation negatively–as having given up your responsibility, accountability, control or identity with a particular activity. Or believing, “They will think I am lazy”.  In my experience, your supervisor or peers will not care who does the work as long as it gets done.  Do you really believe that we are supposed to continue doing what we have always done and do new work too?

When it comes to fellow team members or direct reports to whom you would delegate, we often choose not to delegate because we believe that others are as overloaded as we are. Therefore, it wouldn’t be appropriate to give them more work.  They may be overloaded, but if you are willing to delegate to them, they may be more willing to delegate some of their work to someone else. If they don’t have this option, it is important for you to help them prioritize their work in order to take on new tasks.  Worse yet, they may be overloaded and bored with their current workload. Likely, they would love to do something new and more challenging. Your ability to delegate is a growth opportunity for someone else.  

For some, delegation feels like more work.  “It would be easier to do it myself.”  It feels like more work because the work that comes with delegating is new work new.  It’s new work to judge what is appropriate to delegate; to teach someone to do the activity; to clearly communicate your expectations like timelines and quality; and following up to make sure the work was done.  Most of the time, the new work resulting from delegation will collectively still take less time than actually doing the work yourself. The return on investment increases with each time that you do not have to do the activity yourself. You only need to judge once, maybe teach twice, and eventually, you won’t need to follow up once they own the work.

Delegation serves the purpose of lightening your workload so that you can do the things that only you can do. When we don’t delegate, we are holding ourselves and others back from filling our potential. If we fail to delegate we are simply not doing our job.