The list of reasons why people are reluctant to delegate is both long and illuminating, and it highlights exactly why people who are good at it are something of a special breed.
People who delegate effectively tend to be confident, trusting and inspirational. Those who shy away from delegation use excuses such as “They won’t want to do it”, “I’ll feel bad asking” and, the classic one we’ve all used a thousand times: “It’ll be easier if I do it myself.”
Whether you’re in the office, with your friends or trying to run a happy family, delegation is a key skill that is well worth mastering because it will help to ease your load if you are overburdened, and it can actually forge stronger relationships with those around you.
To be clear, effective delegation is not about fobbing off crummy jobs onto people who are lower paid/weaker than you: it’s about freeing yourself up to do what needs to be done and letting those around you use their skills to rise to an appropriate challenge that will be for the good of the team.
There are obviously different approaches and considerations for work-related delegation when compared to delegating tasks to family and friends, and we have expert help for each.
Delegation in the home
“Delegation is really all about how to make the most of yourself, and how to get the most out of other people,” says UAE-based life coach and counsellor Lisa Laws (lisalawscoaching.com). “Yes, you could call it being manipulative, but isn’t life all about that when you come down to it? If you’re being manipulative but everyone’s happy, then perhaps you’re actually being a good leader. Are you, in fact, just very clever about making sure we all work better together?”
Now that our conscience is clear, Lisa says that when delegating, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. Every case will be different, and the variables include the skills of the person doing the delegation, the task itself, the person being asked to do the job and their availability. Easy delegation might be a cheery grandmother loved by the whole family asking the grandkids to spend 10 minutes coming up with a list of party games for the weekend. If you’re a bit of a grouch and you’re trying to ask a busy, stressed-out sister that you don’t get along with to take care of all the catering at your family Christmas get-together, it’s a much tougher sell.
“You have to appeal to someone’s sense of wanting to feel important or reflecting their status,” says Lisa. “How do they like to work? If they prefer to work autonomously, then give them that. You absolutely have to recognise who’s in front of you because you’re going to be delegating to different people.”
She says that a good way to begin might be something like this: “I really need your help. You’re an expert in this, and I could really use your help.”
Lisa explains this has a good chance of working because you’ve made them feel special. “You really need to get them on your side so that they feel like they’re actually fighting a cause for you,” she says.
In asking friends and fellow grown-ups for help, we’re usually very polite about it and it’s often quite easy to get someone on-side, but the dynamic is different when parents want to delegate to their children.
“For little ones it’s easy – you just have to make everything a game,” smiles Lisa. “A kid doesn’t recognise something is a job unless they’re told it’s a job, and younger children will do anything if it can be made into a game.”
Teenagers are different, and while barking at them and telling them what to do is the norm for some, it isn’t very effective delegation – and it’s not very nice, either. While politely asking a teenage son to take charge of tonight’s dinner might seem like a complete non-starter, it might not be if there’s some kind of trade-off. In the workplace, someone who is skilled at delegation will empower the employee he has delegated to by creating a sense that they are vital to the business, or that they are being entrusted with increased responsibility, or that they are on a fast-track to success.
Even though if it is often not explicit in the workplace, a trade is part of the delegation deal –– so getting your son to make dinner for more computer time or a night out is broadly similar. A more skilled delegator might be able to convince the son that cooking dinner for everyone is the start of an exciting culinary journey, but that’s a stretch for most of us.
Says Lisa: “What people react badly to is simply being told what to do – and that they have to do it your way. It doesn’t appeal to anything creative in the brain and could easily result in a passive-aggressive type response where they’ll do it, but they won’t do it properly.”
Lisa says that the benefits of mastering how to delegate to family and friends include positive responses when you ask them to do something, better outcomes because the task will be performed wel, and more time for you to focus on what you want to do. The home, she says, is the perfect place for it: “I think the way we are in our home is like a microcosm of the way we are in the workplace anyway. We just need to take what we’ve learned at work and make the tasks age- and responsibility-relevant.”
In the workplace
New businesses typically start with one founder or perhaps several of them taking care of everything. As the business grows, the owner can find it extremely difficult to let go of the jobs he or she has done since day one. They know exactly how things should be done. They can do them quickly. What chance is there that the grinning young graduate they’ve just hired to answer the phone is going to be able to do what they’ve been doing with even half the skill and speed?
“Delegation is probably the single hardest thing for business owners to learn to do,” says business advisor Muhannad Ziyadah of Business Doctors UAE (businessdoctors.ae). “Your business is like your baby, but you cannot grow your business, whatever its size, if you don’t delegate.”
As previously mentioned, delegating shouldn’t just be about dumping horrible jobs on people who aren’t expecting it, especially if it strays dramatically from their job description. Any job of that nature should ideally be written into someone’s job description when you hire them. For those nasty jobs which crop up that “someone’s got to do”, it’s more equitable to divide them up fairly when they arise.
Good delegation is always about trying to make the person who is being delegated to feel like they have some small say in proceedings, and that they know they are supported. “When you delegate, you give the opportunity to share the experience and knowledge and know-how between you and your team,” says Muhannad. “At the same time, this frees you up to focus on the strategy for the business. It’s the only way to grow in a healthy way.”
The wrong way to go about delegating at work, says Muhannad, is to blindly pick a person from the team and tell them to do something without any clear parameters. “Start with the right person. Choosing the wrong person is worse than not delegating at all,” he says. “You also need to have realistic expectations and you need to have a plan, or things can quickly go wrong.”
Think of things from the employee’s point of view, too: “They need to be confident enough to be able to do the task and have enough time to do it,” says Muhannad. “What you want to avoid is people feeling scared.”
You also need to monitor people, he says – though you should resist the temptation to micromanage – and it’s important to have a rough idea of what you might do if something goes wrong. A series of mini-targets can be helpful – this is a useful roadmap that ensures that the employee can never go too far astray.
When an employee does something brilliantly, make sure they get the praise they deserve, but don’t make the mistake of giving all future tasks to them, because handing them this metaphorical coat of many colours will likely breed resentment. Says Muhannad: “Not only might they use this extra power you’ve given them against the team, but the rest of the team will feel that you don’t value or trust them to do special tasks, too.”
Delegating for beginners
Dr Iain Henderson from Edinburgh Business School and a familiar face at their Dubai Campus (ebsglobal.net) has a 30-second guide.
1. Decide what to delegate
Either ‘do it or delegate it’ – don’t try to do both and avoid the temptation to micro-manage. Remember that delegation should be empowering for the delegate.
2. Match delegates to the task
Skills/knowledge/abilities should be carefully considered. The level of the task should ideally be challenging but appropriate: a ‘stretch’ goal.
The task/responsibility should be talked through fully, from purpose to fulfilment.
4. Make resources available
Sufficient resources, particularly time, should be made available to the delegate.
The rewards should be discussed and progress regularly checked. On completion, achievement should be checked against objectives and the performance assessed, too.