The Fine Art Of Delegation

The most difficult part of managing involves relinquishing control. Mandy Collins finds out how you know when to let go.

For new managers, delegation can be a difficult skill to master. If you’re not used to having other people to delegate to, then letting go of the reins and parcelling out work to team members can be quite a big mind shift to make.

“Delegation doesn’t come easily,” says Ath’enkosi Sopitshi, monitoring and communications manager for NGO Bumb’ingomso. “But it helps a lot, because when you delegate to people, they own that role – they don’t feel like they’re just another link in the chain.They feel like they have value, like they have something to add. And they can contribute their own special skills.

“Delegation is sometimes very hard to do, and I have to remind myself that in as much as I might feel I can do a better job, it’s important to develop others. That’s part of their professional journey.”

But delegation is also part of keeping yourself healthy. “I had a bad experience with burnout,” she says, “so I’ve learnt that it’s good to remember to depend on other people; that you can’t take on all the responsibility.”

Sink or swim

Wife and husband Carla and Peter Kirk are both managers, but in very different fields. Peter is a system administrator team leader at Ecentric Payment Systems. He observes that “people often get lost in the small tasks instead of focusing on the bigger ones – in fact, a lot of people are simply doing work well below their pay grade.

“Delegation,” Kirk continues, “can help everyone to up their game. IT is a very broad field, and sometimes you have to throw people into the deep end,” he adds. “People also hold on to their skills and don’t always want to share. And there’s a level of team building that happens when you delegate tasks to people. It makes them communicate with each other.”

Carla Kirk, an agile project manager at CSG International, says the team cohesion aspect is advantageous to both team members and the leader. “Delegation helps a team to self-organise and function on its own,” she says. “And if the team is able to go off on its own, it frees me up to join other teams and share my skills elsewhere.”

But how do you decide when to be hands-on, and when to let someone else run with a task? How do you delegate well?

“The success of delegation depends on how receptive people are. It can be difficult if you’re young and delegating to older people. It’s also difficult to put certain tasks down,” says Sopitshi. “But it makes sense within a team if people are capable of doing the work. You have to ask yourself how much you can challenge them. And you always need to give them the opportunity to come back and ask questions.”

“I mostly delegate when people want to become a leader,” says Carla Kirk. “I’ll delegate one thing at a time and see how they cope. You have to learn to let people run with it, because if you are overseeing them, then you’re micromanaging, not delegating. So my approach is to start with simpler tasks and then add onto that. It’s a kind of gradual empowerment.”

Peter Kirk says it also depends on how busy people are. “You don’t want to put additional stress onto your colleagues. And it’s tempting, as a leader, to jump in and be part of the team if you’re not busy, but the role of a senior person should be to look for work and to troubleshoot any problems, so delegating some of the other tasks to juniors frees you up to do that.”

Fast fact

United States of America researchers Thomas Hubbard and Luis Garicano of the Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University, decided to quantify the economic impact of delegation using data from thousands of law offices. They found that when partners delegated work to associates, on average partners could earn more than 20% more than they would otherwise.

Image: ©Shutterstock - 1085354171
Image: ©Shutterstock - 1085354171

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