When we think of middle management training, most of us go straight to skills and tactics. As we have discussed in previous articles, there is so much more to developing new managers into high performance leaders than skills training alone. Properly done, it is a process of learning how to get results through people, instead of through one’s individual efforts. One of the keys to getting the best results through people, is learning the art of delegating effectively.
In the process of learning to delegate effectively, an early or mid-career manager (or executive) is developing the capacity to trust and foster trust, to effectively coach, mentor and empower their team members, and finally to create truly collaborative and high performance teams.
Let’s jump into a quick overview of the art of delegating effectively.
Three Approaches To Delegating
Command and Control
The command and control approach to delegating is perhaps the most common. This is when I have something that needs to get done, and I tell you to do it. I am expecting it to get done and to be done in the way I specify.
This isn’t necessarily a bad approach. It can work well in an organizational structure. It can also work well in a family. Parents can delegate chores to their young children, for example, teaching them how to do the chores, and then expecting them to get done.
The downside of command and control is that as we utilize our employees’ capacities by delegating to them, we are missing the opportunity to grow and develop their capacities, and therefore adding value to everyone – you, the employee, and the organization as a whole.
The second kind of delegation style might be described as “empowerment lip-service.” This is where I begin by telling you: “I’m going to empower you to run with this project and do it on your own.”
Then, because I don’t trust, I’ll be unable to resist the urge to look over your shoulder, require daily progress reports, offer unsolicited advice, and just generally micromanage you. I may even seize control of the project back before you’ve completed it.
The result of “empowerment lip-service” is the same as the first strategy of command and control. You are still controlling your employee. Though the potential of disappointment and irritation experienced by the employee in the “empowerment lip-service” scenario is much higher. After all, they started out believing they were given an opportunity to prove themselves and do things in their own way, only to be disappointed. In any case, it is usually preferable for an employee to be commanded unapologetically, instead of being lured out to believe in an inspiring possibility that never comes to pass.
The third style, which we’ll call “collaborative delegating,” is the most nuanced, and perhaps the most complex style of delegating. We also find it the most effective.
In this style, the manager has the idea of delegating something to their employee, and to use the occasion as an opportunity to develop that employee into an even more capable, independent, collaborative and valuable employee. In other words, to develop that employee into a leader.
So the manager invites the employee to chat about the project. During the chat, they achieve alignment on where they want the project to go. The manager expresses a willingness to trust and empower that employee to take care of the project in their own way. The manager also adds their willingness to let the employee make mistakes in the process of finding their best way forward. That manager has the employee’s back, and is present at any time to talk if that employee needs redirection.
Technically, the assignment has been delegated – but in reality, this is only the beginning of the process we call “collaborative delegation.”
Instead of Giving Answers, Engage In Dialogue
Since the employee is trying something they may never have done before – or perhaps it is something they have done before, but never before in their own way – it is highly likely that at some point, they’ll get stuck or experience challenges.
In this event, the employee re-engages their manager-turned-cheerleader in conversation. There’s such-and-such issue… what should be done about it?
When asked what to do, the manager’s task is not to pronounce “the answer,” or take control of the project back from the employee.
Instead, ask questions. Questions like: what are your options? How would you think about it? How would you think about it, if variable X were different?
Our point is that through questioning and dialogue, the manager can help the employee think through issues and come to a new course of action through the dialogue. Through this process, the employee is becoming more confident, more capable, and more independent. Certainly they are becoming less dependent on their manager. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing: for the manager who supports an employee to develop and become independent, loses that employee’s dependency and receives increased loyalty and improved team performance in return.
Align Around A Communication Process
The final stage of collaborative delegation regards new communications protocols. Now the employee is operating at higher levels of confidence and independence. They don’t need the manager anymore to get things done. But the organizational functioning will require that the manager know what is going on.
|For example, the manager does not want to end up in a position of not knowing what’s going on in their department – particularly when their CEO is asking.
Therefore, the final stage is for the manager and the employee to decide upon some mechanism of communication so that the manager can stay informed of project progress and whatever else that employee is leading with their new enthusiasm for self-initiated team projects. This completes the cycle of collaborative delegation, and the result is an increased level of performance across the team, and the organization.