IF LIKE ME YOU ARE FACED with a lengthy to do list and a shrinking window of time, delegation has an appealing allure. Of course, delegating is more than giving your stuff to somebody else. David Peck, founder of Leadership Unleashed, a consulting company in San Francisco, succinctly points out that delegation helps you make the most of your resources, allows for greater overall productivity and builds the capacity of the people on your team. This you know, yet you still do too much yourself.
Recently, I was faced with a daunting challenge. I was to investigate the rising costs of transportation for high school athletic events in our school district. This was a multifaceted issue with implications for students, families, school sites and various business departments at the district level. To compound matters, it was an area in which I was a relative novice in comparison to the personnel familiar with the nitty gritty details of getting high school athletes to sporting events on time. So I immersed myself in the task and formed a committee. As can happen too often, we talked in circles and then everybody looked to me for direction. I took on too much and quickly got nowhere.
Delegation Does Not Come Easily
Mark Ellwood, president at Pace Productivity, refutes some of the typical excuses offered for poor delegation. He has worked with Starbucks, the YMCA and the Royal Bank of Canada, and suggests that in order to delegate tasks, you should assume the opposite of the following common excuses for failing to do just that: "I could do it better myself"; "I don't have the time to show him/her how it's done"; "They already have enough to do"; "I'm the only one who can do this; the others will mess it up"; "I have nobody to whom I can delegate tasks."
You have probably rationalized your failure to "pass the baton" along these lines too -you can make the leap to delegation, and yet you can't give up the reigns.
So you read advice from people like Gregory P. Smith, president of the management consulting firm Chart Your Course International, who offers the following useful techniques about how to delegate:
- Determine what you will delegate. Make it a priority.
- Clarify the results you want and what success will look like. In general, let the employee choose the method. The end result will be the same as if you did it successfully yourself.
- Clearly define the employee's scope for making decisions and make sure that everyone understands the level of authority assigned.
- Establish a time limit and a monitoring schedule for new or challenging tasks.
If you tell yourself to delegate more, and yet you still fail to take your own advice, perhaps you might look at this dilemma from another angle.
Delegation involves more than management. Leadership is at the core of the issue. Richard Farson, co-author with Ralph Keyes of Whoever Makes the Most Mistakes Wins: The Paradox of Innovation suggests that you look at leadership, and by implication, delegation, as a host would plan a successful party. A host creates the right environment for his guests to enjoy themselves. As a leader, you create the context in which people can be successful. It is a type of social architecture where you build the right conditions for leaders to grow and for people to work toward a common goal dynamically and collaboratively.
In the narrower sense of delegation, this means creating situations where you can coach and guide the people you work with to develop leadership capacity. It is a way of thinking, an orientation or way of doing business, more than a list of quickfix tips for lightening your load.
As I look back on my experiences with the transportation committee, I realize that I had been practicing delegation lite. I had retained too much control over the process because the task was new to me. Subsequently, I did more research, asked better questions and saw the light. I have since delegated the task of facilitating the committee to a site administrator. Roles, tasks and timelines are more clearly defined. As we move forward, I act as a guide on the side, not the sage on the stage. The committee is productive, I am comfortable with the process, and the site administrator is growing as a leader.
Eamonn O'Donovan is director of middle school support at Capistrano Unified School District in California.