Delegate, But Don't Disappear

January 2, 2020

Delegation is a skill practiced as both an art and a science. When done well, the result is a highly engaged workforce well positioned to outperform.


Given these huge benefits, why are so many leaders woefully unsuccessful at delegation?

As leaders ascend to higher levels, they must become acutely aware of the fact that they need to operate differently to achieve success. They need to understand that what got them to that higher level will not be enough to sustain them. New skills will be needed and major adjustments in leadership styles and approaches will become non-negotiable in order to avoid becoming a fly in the ointment.

As a leader, your skillful delegation will mean making a shift in the type of value which you bring to the teams around you.  You will move from a doer to a coach; from the master of a task to the enabler of projects or initiatives.

In his book, The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success, Scott Eblin described this shift as ‘redefining how you add value.’ He outlines precisely how an executive will need to operate through, and after, this redefinition phase. Eblin writes that executives will “have learned that their value-added is more intangible. More often than not, their value is in either facilitating or interpreting the work of others. The facilitation of the work often involves using executive influence to secure needed resources or to lower barriers to getting important work done.”

This new thinking means letting go of the need for absolute control, and being more strategic about your involvement.

The truth is that after methodically acquiring the talent needed to advance business strategies, you must trust those hired to do the work envisioned. Talented individuals can only thrive if they are fully leveraged and inspired. The opposite of this is called ‘micromanagement’ accompanied by many downsides for leaders, ranging from personal burnout to disengaged staff members.

Without this degree of trust, you will unsuccessfully dive in and out of projects, causing bottlenecks and confusion. It will be impossible to say ‘yes’ to everything, and folly to even try.

Having said this, delegation should never lead to disappearance. Leaders must lead and that means keeping your finger squarely on the pulse of both your team and the issues which concern them. The perils for leaders who disappear after delegating work are played out with regularity in corporate circles. There is the CEO caught unaware as other team leaders engage in fraudulent activities. Or, the Chief Operating Officer who appears completely clueless during a board meeting presentation as one of her team leaders rolls out a new initiative.

It’s wise to engage your team and test for their degree of comfort, desire for autonomy and clarity of your expectations as you strive for balance. The right mix of your involvement is ultimately found through trial and error. It is dependent upon myriad factors—a team member’s level of experience, the visibility of an initiative, expectations of next level leadership, etc.

When balanced appropriately, your leadership role can allow you to thrive, even as you develop top talent and reward the efforts of hardworking team members.



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