In the 1969 book The Peter Principe: Why Things Always Go Wrong, authors Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull coined the business maxim that, in a hierarchical organization, employees will rise to the highest level of their incompetence. Since talent does not follow us like out-of work teenagers, many managers/leaders hit the beachhead of their new assignment and find their compass missing. They don’t know where to go.
Executives are often promoted without being equipped to take on the role. Overwhelmed by new responsibilities some abandon their mission and dive into the foxholes of familiar work. Meanwhile their subordinates wander aimlessly. Conductors leading an orchestra cannot play all the instruments. That task is delegated to the sometimes tin-eared musicians under his/her tutelage. Appropriate delegation is one of the greatest keys to success for leaders. Appropriate delegation empowers employees to gain skill and confidence and ensures that everyone shares the load.
Unfortunately executives often find it easier to do the delegated work rather than train someone else to do it. Sometimes an executive has done the delegated work in the past and was very good at it—sometimes that’s the reason s/he got promoted in the first place. Let’s see what happens when the symphony conductor decides to play instruments instead of conducting. First s/he rushes back to play the drums, because s/he is very good at it and perceives the drum player to be rhythm-challenged. Then s/he rushes over to take over for the trombone player who by his/her estimation has short-arm syndrome and so on, the exhausted conductor soon blows through his/her deodorant. This may work well for the short term but over time the conductor burns out, his/her orchestra quits practicing and it is progressively difficult to sell tickets for the next symphony.
It takes the executive time to train an employee to master the work. It takes time to mentor subordinate managers in the frustratingly un-empirical disciplines of managing people. But if leaders do subordinates’ work everyone loses. The leader is progressively chained to a desk while the employee takes a cerebral sabbatical. The next time something comes up, the executive does the work because s/he is the only one that knows how to do it. And so it goes over and over again. Employees may wonder why the leader is doing the work they were hired to do but since you can’t fight city hall… Eventually the employees take on the role of by-stander at the scene of an accident and watch their boss fry. The executive on the other hand gets grumpy about always doing other people’s work and is mystified why s/he can’t get important leadership work done.
When executives make the decision to “clean off their plate” and delegate appropriate work, they need to refrain from swooping in to help when the going gets tough. It is hands-off until the employee completes the task. But just as important as delegating the task is effective oversight: appropriate guidance (not doing) and clear instructions.
8 Steps to Successful Delegation
- Be clear about the task or project you wish to delegate – the scope and what it looks like to successfully complete it
- Include timelines for completion
- Outline your expectations including communication to you throughout the timeline on the progress and/or barriers to completing the task or project
- Include details on the financial parameters and expectations of the task or project
- Communicate your availability for questions or guidance
- Spread the tasks among several employees to enable the team to grow, don’t send the work to one person or s/he becomes overwhelmed with the work load and/or others see the person as a “favorite” of yours
- Carefully select the employee that could best complete the assignment
- Make it a habit to grow your employees through appropriate coaching and oversight with delegated tasks and projects
Benefits of Effective Delegation
- Employees are empowered to do tasks that build their skill set
- You have more time to fulfill your executive responsibilities
- Your team acquires a better understanding of the extra work that inevitably occurs
- Employees have a sense of accomplishment when asked to do something extra, provided it doesn’t make the work load impossible
- Everyone in the organization is doing appropriate work for his/her respective role
- Over time, it builds the team’s skill set and helps the organization be more nimble as employees refrain from saying “that’s not my job”
When work is delegated effectively, it results in you and your team(s) doing satisfying and appropriate work. Remember that effective delegation takes dedication and practice. Evaluate your abilities in the delegation arena and try incorporating the aforementioned steps to help you be more effective. Everyone wins!