Why Leaders Don't Delegate - And Why They Need To Trade Excuses For Results
Delegating is like exercise. You know you should do it. You know you need to do it. You know it can only benefit you, while not doing it can only harm you. But darned if you can drag yourself up off the couch and actually do it. The reasons why leaders don't delegate responsibilities range from the sincere to the self-serving. Ultimately, they are nothing but excuses. Are you clinging to flimsy justifications at the expense of your organization, its people - and your own success?
According to Gallup, only 25 percent of employer entrepreneurs (defined as those who started a business and have at least one employee) have "high delegator talent." And the problem isn't confined to these leaders: a study conducted by the Institute for Corporate Productivity found that 46 percent of companies have "somewhat high" or "high" levels of concern about their employees' ability to delegate.
What prevents leaders from delegating authority and responsibility?
- I don't have enough time. You're too swamped to delegate. You don't have the time to teach your direct reports how to ask the right questions or make the best decisions. It's easier, and faster, to do it yourself. Which may be true if you were talking about one task, one day. But you're not. You're talking about every task, every day. This adds up to countless hours - and resources - that you waste on jobs below your pay-grade.
Yes, delegating responsibility and empowering your people takes an investment in time. But this investment yields significant returns as soon as your people start making decisions and acting independent of your direct supervision.
- I don't want to lose control - or the credit. You may not want to admit it, but you don't want to lose control over certain tasks or risk giving up the credit. You are the best in the organization at Task A. No one else does it like you, and everyone knows it. Great. So what?
At some point - maybe at the point where you're overwhelmed and your people are unmotivated and disengaged - you have to step back and relinquish control. Maybe Joe won't do it as well as you. Likely, he won't, at least at first. But as Ilya Pozin writes in Forbes, "CEOs and entrepreneurs alike should learn to accept 80 percent as good enough - make it your new A+, so to speak. As long as your goals are met, don't sweat the small stuff."
As for credit? Tom Peters said, "Leaders don't create followers; they create more leaders." Nothing reflects on you as a leader as much as your ability to empower your people.
- I don't want direct reports to show me up. This is the other side of the control coin. Instead of fearing the loss of credit, you may worry that your subordinate will actually outperform you. Delegating will make you seem flawed, expose your weaknesses. You will delegate yourself right out of a job.
But consider this: according to Gallup research, leaders with "high delegator talent" achieved an average three-year growth rate of 175%. This was 112% greater than those with limited or low delegator talent. Further, the effective delegators generated 33% more revenue and created more jobs than their poor-delegating counterparts.
Rather than delegate yourself out of a job, you're more likely to delegate yourself into new opportunities for your career and company.
- I don't trust people to get it right. Often "Get it right" means "Do it my way." Again, it's largely a matter of letting go. As long as the goals are met, it doesn't matter if they did it your way or discovered their own solutions. It doesn't matter that they did it 80 percent as well as you. Or that they did it better. What matters is that the task was completed, and you've empowered that individual.
One concern, though, is direct reports will take too much initiative on a project and do more than you asked them to. This can lead to negative, or even disastrous, results. But rather than a reason not to delegate, it's a reason to delegate more effectively. Set clear parameters before delegating tasks. Explain the concept of the Decision Tree (with its varying levels of decisions) so people know the boundaries of their authority.
- I don't want to give up the tasks I enjoy. This is a tough one. It's difficult to give up work that you find meaningful, or from which you draw intense satisfaction. If that's the case, declining promotions may make the most sense for you. But if you want to advance, you will have to give up at least some of your "babies." This frees you to focus on tasks that drive value for the organization, and as you delve into them, you will likely find areas that reignite your passion.
You can always start by delegating the tasks you dislike. As you get those "wins" under your belt, delegating becomes easier. The benefits - including a shorter to-do list and the chance to cut out early on Friday afternoon - become more apparent.
Just as excuses won't get you in shape or help you run that half-marathon you've been saying you'll do, they won't help you advance your career or grow a successful organization. Discard the reasons, the justifications, the myths that prevent you from delegating responsibility - and make room for results.