Leaders Have No Choice But To Delegate

Leaders are constantly faced with the dilemma of having to get too much done in too little time. Instead of taking on too much themselves, leaders should delegate tasks to others in the organization.


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Managers, supervisors, team leaders or anyone in a leadership position are constantly faced with the dilemma of having to get too much done in too little time. Often, these people fall into the trap of doing too much themselves instead of delegating tasks to others in the organization.

One of the best management articles I have ever read was written in 1980 by William Oncken Jr. and Donald L. Wass. The article titled “Management Time; Who’s Got the Monkey” addressed the need for managers to control their time by making more effective use of delegation. The authors used a “monkey on the back” analogy to show how responsibility frequently makes its way from the backs of employees to the backs of managers. A major point made is that managers are supposed to help employees solve their own problems, but they cannot do this if they are continually taking on the problems themselves. Since reading the article, I have become acutely aware of how many monkeys live and breathe on the backs of unsuspecting, overworked managers.

Why is there a reluctance to delegate? One answer I hear a lot is “it’s just easier to do it myself.” This may be true, but even if it is easier for leaders to do some things faster and better than subordinates, they just cannot do everything themselves.

Another excuse I hear for not delegating is that there is nobody to delegate to. Again, this may be true in some cases, but sometimes leaders simply make a conscious decision not to delegate based on a perception that nobody can do certain things as well as they can. Regrettably, in many cases this becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If a leader believes the employee will fail in the assigned task, the leader will surely find some problem with the end result to confirm that initial belief. Usually, the problem of not having anyone to delegate to rests squarely on the shoulders of the leader. For whatever reason, the leader has failed to train or coach employees sufficiently. Without this training, employees cannot be as successful as the leader in completing necessary tasks. Not only does the leader get frustrated by having to do so many things, but it is likely the employee is just as frustrated by the leader’s lack of confidence in him or her.

Like any journey, delegation begins with the first step. Once the leader has delegated a task, he or she must step away and allow the employee to proceed. Although taking an interest and reviewing progress with the employee can be helpful, micro-managing and “nit-picking” is not. In order to successfully delegate, the leader needs to shift control from how the employee completes the task to the results achieved. In the best case, the results will be good, and the manager can take pride in the success achieved by the employee. At times, the results may not be what were expected. When this is the case, the manager has a frame of reference and can work with the employee to find ways to do better next time (and the leader can even delegate the responsibility of ensuring better future performance to the employee).

Delegation is the only way leaders can expect to find any extra time to do the things they never seem to get around to doing, yet these things may be critical to achieving organizational growth and long-term success. I have seen many small organizations in which key leaders spend too much time on one segment of the business, such as quoting, programming or even running machines, because they feel they are the only ones capable of doing these tasks. Obviously, this limited focus can be detrimental to other critical segments of the business. If you find yourself in this situation, determine if you are delegating enough and giving others the opportunity to make a more meaningful contribution to the organization.