Have you ever had one of those days (or weeks) where you felt like you were constantly working and yet the task list didn’t shrink? Yes, the struggle is real.
Last week I ran a poll with 185+ fantastic women leaders about challenges faced while delegating work to their teams. More than half of them reportedly struggle with mixed or low work ownership in their teams. And a third of them shared that they take up too much work on themselves.
The New Manager’s Dilemma
For the last close to a decade and a half of my working life, a notebook has always been my faithful companion. I do have task management apps of course, but I still swear by my notebook. Very old school, I know. But I love it.
I always carry my notebook with me for meetings. I keep it next to my laptop while working. And I always note down even the smallest of tasks that need to get done. Then when I complete any task at the end of the hour/day/week, I cross it out with my pen and it makes me happy.
So why am I telling you this?
Many years back, when I used to be a new manager, I remember falling into a pattern of overworking. I used to start my day early and yet I would end up working past midnight almost every day. My dear notebook overflowed with tasks and it didn’t ever seem to shrink.
I would obsess over the smallest details for any client deliverables. I would obsess over the project timelines. I would try to join every team meeting so I would not miss out on anything. Most of all, I thought that the task would not be done well if I didn’t do it myself.
And the result was being massively stressed out mentally. I would work long hours and diligently cross out completed tasks often. But I would continually keep adding tasks as well — so the net effect seemed zero.
After a couple of months or so, I remember having a meeting with my then boss. I shared my dilemma of drowning under unending tasks despite having a good team. He took the time to listen patiently and asked me about all the tasks that were on my plate.
He picked on few of the tasks and asked me a simple question — Do you really think this task is worth spending your own time?
For the record, it wasn’t.
He helped me see that the time I was spending on some of the tasks could easily be delegated to the right team members. And my time and energy could be used to solve problems of a different magnitude, engage with more partners and even build my team’s capacity.
He taught me a key lesson –
Delegation is one of the most important yet underrated art for leaders.
I always carried this learning with me as I moved on to different organizations and bigger roles.
A Double Trouble Sandwich
Ineffective delegation actually brings double trouble — both for managers as well as team members.
When managers think that they could do a job better/faster/more efficiently than the team, they take tasks upon themselves. And, the team thinks that they need to contribute only what-is-explicitly-asked. The next time, the team feels that the manager will own tasks anyway. So they continue acting as individual contributors and do not take ownership. Eventually, managers end up taking the onus of more and more tasks. The vicious loop continues.
Devanshi Jain has been managing and leading teams for a few years and is currently the Founder and Chief Editor at Edit Ops. While sharing her own experience on delegation, she says –
Delegation is the key to personal growth for leaders. We cannot do everything ourselves and at some point, we need to realize this fact and train the team members well. Delegation is the most effective when it comes with the freedom to ask questions as well as help from the team leader. Delegating work gives a sense of ownership to the team and makes them feel trusted and valued.
Bad delegation causes frustration for the team as well. Sometimes, the manager doesn’t allocate tasks suited to the role of the team members. So they end up feeling underutilized and undervalued. And sometimes, the manager passes on the task but does not provide the right level of inputs or support. This makes team members feel as if they are being set up for failure. In both cases, there is dissatisfaction in the team since they feel stalled in their career growth.
Sanjana Sinha is an impact professional and currently works in a development consulting firm. Over the last few years, she has worked under managers with different working styles across diverse projects. She shares –
At the time I was being over-managed, I used to feel low on confidence about my work which eventually led me to lose interest and inspiration. As the gears shifted and I was allowed to take greater ownership, I felt my manager trusted me with the additional responsibility instilling in me the belief that ‘yes, I can!’. It made me feel empowered and inspired to go the extra mile.
What Constructive Delegation Actually Means
Unfortunately, delegation is not a skill that is explicitly taught. Both managers and teams have water cooler conversations about it. But very few organizations actually spend time building this skill in their managers or leaders. You are expected to learn it on the job by making mistakes, by observing your own managers, or basically through trial and error.
As leaders (and managers) we often misunderstand what delegation means. It does not simply mean handing off tasks to someone.
Constructive delegation is the art of assigning the right tasks, to the right team members, at the right time, in the right way.
And the first step in effective delegation is breaking your own personal mental block. It requires trusting team members to get the job done, being okay with some mistakes, and building team capacity to perform. Effective delegation requires the transfer of ownership as well as providing the right environment to perform.
As per the delegation matrix, typically four scenarios happen –
- Underutilized teams: Manager doesn’t delegate or provide support = team unhappy, manager burnt out, outputs may/may not be optimal
- Overmanaged Teams: Managers does not completely transfer ownership and closely manages team = team frustrated, manager unhappy, outputs suboptimal
- Scrambling Teams: Manager allocates task ownership but doesn’t provide the right support = team confused, manager unhappy, outputs suboptimal
- Empowered Teams: Manager delegates clearly and provides the right support = team thrives, manager thrives
Kaushal Singh has been working in the gaming industry for the last two decades. While sharing his experience of managing a 230+ people strong team, he points out something crucial –
Delegation actually requires stepping out of your comfort zone by handing over power and enabling your team members to achieve more. Delegation involves being a coach, a mentor and most importantly conquering your fear instincts as a leader.
So remember this one golden rule. For a task, if the team comes and asks you ‘Please let me know if I can provide support’. That means that you have not transferred the ownership of that task to your team. It is still on your own to-do list. So, make sure to change that, in the right way.
Effective delegation is the superpower to unlock the growth of you (as a leader) as well your team.
Now that we know the power of delegation, is there a way to do it right? Is there a way to delegate effectively which can empower us as well as our team members?
In the next piece, I will share the secret sauce of constructive delegation — a simple yet powerful framework to help you delegate better. Make sure to get it in your inbox.
This piece was originally published in my newsletter ThoughtShot.
Hi – I am Roselin! I have been working on issues of sustainable development, innovation and impact for over 12 years – and I absolutely love it. I also love being a mom to an adorable three-year-old. When I am not juggling PowerPoints and parenting, I enjoy being a librocubicularist and moonlight as a writer.
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