How to delegate

How to Delegate

Effective delegation principles and practice is a core topic that should be included on all management training course programmes designed to develop quality manaers. The one characteristic that clearly distinguishes good from bad management is the ability to delegate properly. Too much as well as too little delegation is a clear pointer of managerial weakness! It is especially those Leaders who, in most cases, were particularly successful as a team member themselves for many years, who find it challenging not to interfere in the work of their staff and often take unilateral decisions.

Even highly praised managers like the manager who “saved” Chrysler, Lee Iacocca, have failed at the end of the day as a result of their lack of willingness to delegate. Iacocca was so convinced of his own abilities that he had a determining influence in the design of new Chrysler models. His concepts no longer reflected the modern market trend, however, and the result was a decline in sales figures.

Therefore, try to heed the following four rules of delegation:

Rule 1. Never delegate a job that you do not fully understand yourself!

For example, if you are a Sales Manager you should not delegate the division of an area into territories to one of your area sales managers if you yourself are unclear about the criteria that should be used to carry out this division. The starting point is a thorough exchange of information with the staff reporting to you. Thoroughly read their reports and debate the issues with them.

If you are responsible for the work of another manager, you also need to find out as much as possible about them and their managerial skills: what has their performance been like hitherto, what do their people think of them and what are their particular strengths and weaknesses?

Only if you know exactly which tasks you are going to delegate to which people will you be able to guarantee that there will be no unpleasant surprises!

You cannot delegate responsibility for the overall result!

Rule 2. Provide “well meant advice” raely but consistently!

Sensible delegation often fails because of two problems. Firstly, the people are not always willing to take on the additional responsibility you have given them and secondly, managers are sometimes not willing to really let go of a certain responsibility.

As covered on any good management training course, you cannot and should not delegate your personal responsibility for the overall result. You can, however, make your staff responsible for parts of the overall outcome. This means that you have to be willing to give away a part of your authority and live with the consequences.

Of course, there will be times when what is required is a clear and irrevocable decision by management. Henry Kissinger said, “No one has the right to be in a position of authority if they are not prepared to overrule their subordinates” and Arthur K. Watson, former head of IBM said, “It’s no fun being the boss if you can’t take a decision on your own once in a while”.

Your credibility as a manager is reduced, however, if you use this dictatorial approach too frequently and so abuse your positional power. Think carefully before you revoke the responsibility you have already delegated to one of your staff by giving some “well-meant advice”. Make sure that managerial top-down decisions are used in a restrained way – the key is “once in a while”!

Good delegation requires open communication. You have to know what is going on and your staff must know where they stand.

Rule 3. Examine your managerial skills as a team leader.

The starting point for team work is critical self analysis. You should ask yourself “What skills needed for successful team management am I lacking and which particular skills have contributed to my success in the past?”.

You need players for your team, not captains. This is particularly problematic when you take on a new task. Some of your players are already on the field, whereas you are still warming up. In cases like this it is particularly important to carry out a critical self analysis and analyse the existing characteristics and skills of the players you have.

Most important is that you avoid the trap of surrounding yourself with a homogenous team. You cannot win a game with eleven centre-forwards!

Rule 4. Be willing to delegate at all times!

The ability to delegate develops and changes over the years. The American academic Robert W. Lear (who founded the Executive-in-Residence program at Columbia Business School) believed that each manager goes through three important development stages, which last from one to five years.

In the first phase, after becoming a manager, the manager takes fundamental decisions that change and mould his/her area and strategic direction.

The second phase involves discovering the outside world. For example, the Sales Manager travels around a lot, visits large-scale clients, allied companies, suppliers and remote subsidiaries.

The third phase is characterised by an even stronger external orientation. In this phase the Sales Manager is now primarily interested in the “larger vision” and is no longer interested in small, operative details.

By the end of the second phase at the latest, the Manager therefore needs a strong and responsible team to support him. A manager can only build such a team if s/he is willing to delegate certain aspects of responsibility on both a short-term and long-term basis. The manager must be open to demonstrating trust in his team.

Many in a managerial position admit to finding delegation hard. If you want to develop your skills further, attend a good management training course.

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