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The Real Reason Managers Don't Delegate Effectively

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In last week's CONNECT2Lead Blog post we reviewed 5 Lames Excuses for Not Delegating.

Those are five of the justifications I hear most often from supervisors who choose not to delegate and get work done through others. However, as a 

coach and trainer, I'm convinced those five rationalizations aren't the primary reason for a lack of effective delegation.

Sure, those five excuses may be convenient and may even have some elements of truth. Underlying all five of them, though, is this overarching truth:

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Most supervisors, managers and senior leaders do not know how to delegate effectively.

Effective delegation requires more than making work assignments. It isn't done solely for the purpose of offloading menial tasks. Effective delegation isn't about picking and choosing based on current capabilities and workload.

Effective delegation starts with an intention to develop people.

If you're delegating for any other reason, then the 5 lame excuses for not delegating will all seem valid. As a result, you and your team will be no more capable next year than you are today. You'll keep doing the work you're doing, never freeing up enough time to develop yourself and do more managerial and strategic work. Your direct reports will continue doing the same work they already do, perhaps showing some modicum of improvement but, nonetheless, pigeon-holed.

By contrast, when managers delegate for development entire teams develop. The team's leader stretches to learn and do new things. Additionally, having delegated some of his or her work, the team's leader also has more time to coach and support members of the team as they stretch, learn and grow, too. As capacity expands, so does learning agility. Everyone becomes more capable, more nimble and more equipped to tackle new challenges. These are strong teams.

In next week's post, we'll describe the 8 steps for delegating effectively so any team leader can build a stronger team. Before we get to that, it's imperative for anyone who wants to delegate effectively to first develop a new paradigm for delegating for development.

When your intention is to delegate for development, you'll make different decisions about what to delegate, who to delegate to, and how you'll handoff the delegated work. As with any shift, this may seem unnatural at first. Practice will make it easier.

When it comes to routine delegating, most people ask the wrong questions (hence the 5 lame excuses for not delegating). Most managers, when faced with new tasks or when considering whether or not to delegate tasks, will go through a mental exercise that includes questions like these:

- Do I really want to take the time to explain this to someone else? Or would if just be faster to do it myself?

- Are they too busy? Will they be upset with me if I give them more work?

- Since I like doing this work, won't I miss it if I give it up?

- If I'm not the one they're counting on to do this work, will I lose status or become less necessary here?

- Can anyone else really do this as well as I can? Don't I owe it to the company to do this since I'm the expert?

These questions are all limiting. They are focused more on the present than on the future, more on the manager than on the team, more on the status quo than the possibilities.

To delegate for development, a manager must make a shift and ask different questions about the tasks he or she routinely does. Managers who delegate for development conduct a quarterly exercise that pushes them to continually delegate more work. The exercise only takes about an hour. It starts by listing all your routine tasks. Then, for each item on that list, you'll ask yourself these questions (to replace the set of questions above):

- Who can do this today?

- Who needs to learn how to do this?

- Who will benefit from practicing this?

- Who can offer new ideas about this?

- Who will do this when I'm not here?

- Who is interested in doing this?

- Who is doing work that no longer challenges them?

In addition to reviewing your list of routine tasks and asking these questions, make it a regular practice to ask these questions with any new projects or tasks. You don't have to master the work before you delegate the work. Give others the opportunity to become subject matter experts and pride of ownership.

Bonus for you, the manager -- even conducting this exercise and doing this work of delegating for development is beneficial. By virtue of delegating in this way, you are already developing new and higher level managerial skills.

Check back next week to get the eight essentials for effective delegation here in the CONNECT2Lead Blog.

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Editor's Note: This post was originally published in August 2015 and has been recently updated.