Why delegation is good for the soul and the checkbook

Every effective leader must learn to delegate. That’s a fact.

Unfortunately, some managers have the opinion that effective delegation is the same as giving orders to underlings. Not so. Effective delegation happens when the right task is  appointed to the right employee for the right reason. This is NOT to be confused with:

  • Assigning Mary Jane Billy Bob’s job, because Billy Bob is disorganized and unreliable, while Mary Jane is competent and dependable.
  • Appointing John as lead on the XYZ project—even though YOU should be leading the XYZ project—but you don’t like XYZ, and John won’t complain.
  • Insisting that Jane handle ABC, even though it’s quite clear that Jane is terrible at ABC (although very good at a few other things), and there are other employees gifted in ABC who’d welcome the chance to do it.

When delegation goes wrong

Delegation gone wrong is frustration-inducing for most everyone involved—including the misguided delegator who isn’t getting the results he wants. Too often, however, the manager handing out the work doesn’t stop to think whether the problem might be with the assignment. Instead, she’s focused on the assignee, wondering why he or she can’t do the job.

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When delegation goes right

When tasks are delegated with care, however, the results are very different. The right task assigned to the right person results in increased productivity, greater efficiency, and greater satisfaction for both employee and manager—all of which impacts the bottom line in a positive way.

Valuing strengths instead of criticizing weaknesses

The whole strength/weakness thing gets on my nerves, I’ll admit, because it presupposes that everyone should be good in everything, when nothing could be further from the truth. This view also presupposes that everyone can be taught to do everything, which is definitely not true. For example (and I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again)—some of us should never, EVER manage other human beings.

Still, when you delegate properly, you’re also playing to your employee’s strengths—rather than trying to “fix” her weaknesses—and that’s better for everyone. By and large, people should do work that makes good use of what they’re good at. Yes, every job includes tasks the employee would rather not do (mostly because the employee isn’t very good at them), and the employee should be held accountable for reaching a certain level of competency for all required tasks. However, failure to recognize that people have talents is a big mistake.

Consider a delegation mismatch whenever no amount of encouragement, coaching, demonstrating, cajoling, or threatening improves performance.

In some cases, you’ll have to accept that your employee is in the wrong job. In most cases, however, you’ll find that your employee is being assigned the wrong task. In these cases, and assuming your employee does most of his job very well, forget about the “shoulds” and “what ifs.” Instead, do everyone a favor and give that task to someone better suited for it.



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