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 building the capacity to develop 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 a very specific way.
This approach can generate results in an organization. It might also work in some instances within 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, however, is that we are missing the opportunity to grow and develop the employee’s own leadership abilities, 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, if I am unwilling to trust you in your role, 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 back control of the project before you’ve completed it.
The result of “empowerment lip-service” is the same as the first strategy of command and control – I am still controlling you – but worse. Now I am also likely to be increasing your level of disappointment and irritation because I am being inauthentic. After all, you started out believing you were given an opportunity to prove yourself and do things in your own way, only to find it not to be true.
The third style, which we’ll call “collaborative delegating,” is both the most nuanced and the most effective.
In this style, I have the idea of delegating something to you, and to use the occasion as an opportunity to develop you into an even more capable, independent, collaborative and valuable employee. In other words, to develop you into a leader.
So I invite you to chat about the project. During the chat, we achieve alignment on where we want the project to go. I express a willingness to trust and empower you to take care of the project in your own way. I also add my willingness to let you make mistakes in the process of finding your best way forward. I have your back, and am available at any time to talk if you want or need redirection.
Instead of Giving Answers, Engage In Dialogue
Since you are trying something you may never have done before – or perhaps it is something you have done before, but never before in your own way – it is possible that at some point, you may get stuck or experience challenges.
In this event, you can re-engage with me in conversation. There’s such-and-such issue… what should be done about it?
When asked what to do, then my task is not to prescribe “the answer,” or take back control of the project.
Instead, I ask questions. Questions like: what are your options? How are you thinking 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
Now you are operating at higher levels of confidence and independence. You don’t need to fully rely on me anymore to get things done. However, in order to truly collaborate, you and I must maintain alignment with each other around our goals. With ongoing alignment, you can keep the project on target and I can stay informed.
You and I can work together to determine the best communication mechanism not only for maintaining alignment, but also for me to be informed on whatever else you are now leading with your 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.
We sincerely hope that following this article, you are at least 1% open to the possibilities of collaborative delegation. For you and your entire team. We wish you the best of luck!