Hannah, my friend who is for the first time in her career in a leadership position, has asked me a really special question this week. Her new employee has recently joined the team, the workplace situation, the onboarding and the plan for the first few weeks has worked out well so far. The new employee was a lucky find - while she doesn't have a lot of previous experience in the economic sector she's now landed in, she's seasoned and experienced in what her role entails, and she brings a fresh look on different subjects to the table.
Hannahs question for this week revolves around a topic that - from my perspective - is always on the table for all leaders: where is the line between what I can delegate (also to meet the demands placed on me) and what must remain my responsibility?
How do I delegate properly?
I will spare myself and my readers the excursion that I usually make when the term "properly" comes up 🙂
However, let's put it this way: how do I delegate in a way that does justice to the responsibilities of my role and the tasks of my employee and team? How do I find a level of delegation, that is appropriate?
In the last article, I already indicated that Hannah's boss has very clear ideas about what additional tasks Hannah can take on, now that her new employee has been hired, and as she is obviously contributing well. This means that there are clear external expectations and demands on her as a manager, and her role has also grown, new activities and areas of responsibility have been added (of course, otherwise a new position would not have been approved). At the same time, the new colleague naturally also wants to have her own area of responsibility, and from a purely professional point of view, she is capable of doing so.
So how does Hannah find the best measure of what she can delegate and what she should keep in her own hands?
From my perspective, delegation is about finding the balance between
- own expectations (here: those from Hannah)
- the expectations of the other parties involved (here: those of the new colleague and of the supervisor)
- The requirements / authorities of one's role (in this case: Hannah's accountability framework).
- what authorities the employee has (some companies, for example, have clearly regulated at which management level which budget can be signed off - then I cannot delegate such responsibilities if my employee does not have the corresponding, company-wide regulated, level)
- the time frame, that is needed for certain activities
- own risk-taking tolerance, in the sense of: am I ready to bear certain consequences?
- risk-taking tolerance of the organization
What is behind these aspects, and should I take them into my consideration?
1) My own expectations (of the outcome, the new employee or of myself)
I started with my own expectations because, from my perspective, there is a significant pitfall hidden here. If my expectations of what the "fulfillment" of a particular task looks like are very clear, then that can be quite conducive to the process and the employee who is entrusted with it. Often, however, too much "clarity" or too many expectations gets in the way of fulfillment.
What I mean by this is:
- If I don't only have a clear idea of the outcome, but also of how to get to the outcome, then I take away every bit of freedom of design from my employees and maybe even hinder them to take over the task satisfactorily. I'm thinking about general sayings like "many roads lead to Rome" - there is often not only one way to reach a certain goal and this is often exactly where the added value and the creative framework that I can also offer as a supervisor lies
- If my expectations are set so high that someone who has not had exactly the same experience as I have, who has taken a different path and perhaps is taking on certain tasks for the first time, cannot fulfill them at all or can only do so with great, great difficulty, then this is counterproductive and frustrates the employees and me as a supervisor equally (e.g., if someone new joins the team who has never supported customized workshops before and has never created a PowerPoint presentation, and then I expect this person to create an equally high-quality presentation as I have done after hundreds of workshops, then the colleague will be overwhelmed and I will be disappointed).
- If I am so clear that I can't even find words for what it is actually about (because it seems so obvious to me that I can't even grasp it and name it explicitly), then I need a mind reader on the other side who can grasp these aspects without me putting them in the room. With some colleagues this surprisingly works, but that is rather the exception! And if I am not even aware of this aspect, then it can only end in a disappointment on my part, namely if my thoughts have not been read 😉
- If my expectation of myself is to handle everything on my own in record time with incredible quality - then delegation is somehow impossible, because I immediately no longer fulfill the expectation or the demand on myself. From numerous coaching sessions, I have the impression that this is not so seldom a pitfall that gets in the way, and is an aspect that many are not even remotely aware of.
What do I expect from myself regarding the fulfillment of my tasks?
- Is it sufficient when it's delivered later?
- Is it sufficient when it is delivered differently?
- Can I imagine, that it might be even better than if I would deliver it?
- Or when it takes longer?
- Or looks differently?
- And is that okay for me?
- From my point of view, the value aspect is even more important: Is it in line with my values to delegate? Or not to deliver certain aspects myself?
Becoming more aware of your own expectations of yourself, of others, and of the role you have to fulfill, that is a very important aspect for me as a coach to deal with delegating in the first place....
We will look at the other aspects step by step in the following articles.