Delegating Effectively: How To Let Go—and Why

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By nature I tend to be a bit of a control freak. At home nothing is quite right unless I've done it myself. I feel a sense of accomplishment knowing the job was done right-or at least my way. My husband is extremely capable and willing to pitch in. I eagerly accept his offers of help–and then when he's not looking (and even sometimes when he is), I redo what he's done. His response is usually, "why did I waste my time to begin with?" Can you blame him?

The control issue has also raised its ugly head in the workplace. For example, a co-worker may have just the expertise needed to offer assistance with a project; yet, I ignore the help because possibly I'd lose control of the end result. Is this picture becoming clear? You may have different issues, but all scenarios lead to one thing: a person who is exhausted and frustrated much of the time from trying to do it all.

The reasons for not delegating are fairly obvious. Often, we are afraid of mistakes-at least when we make them, we have only ourselves to blame. Control is a large factor: when we think of delegating responsibility, loss of control, power, and responsibility all come into play.

Delegating requires communicating properly. Poor communication can result when we try to delegate, but haven't taken the time and effort to get our message across thoroughly.

Then there is the perfection syndrome. Remember the song phrase, "I can do anything better than you can?" This often fits when delegation is being considered. No one can do the task as well as you can, so why bother?

Another factor is lack of time. Delegating jobs-training and coaching people and checking on progress-does take time.

Why Delegate?

However, there are many positive reasons to let go and spread the work around.

A note of caution: "Effective delegation involves achieving the correct balance between effective control of work and letting people get on with jobs in their own way," states "Remember that you bear ultimate responsibility for the success or failure of what you are trying to achieve."

When asked if he found delegating work difficult, Joel Kempfer, CO, FAAOP, president of Kempfer Prosthetics Orthotics, replies with a firm "No!" He continues, "I have excellent employees who share in the success of the business, which motivates them to take on more responsibility. By giving employees a sense of shared equity in the success of the practice, I find little trouble in each employee accomplishing any goals set before him."

When you learn how to delegate correctly, you will transfer work to people whose skills in a certain area are better than yours, thus saving time and money. This proved true for Steve Baxter, CO, LO, director, Department of Orthotics, Shriners Hospital for Children, Houston, Texas. He relates, "We provide custom halo jackets....Since we're a pediatric hospital, we deal with some major congenital deformities of the neck and spine....I felt that I was the only one who could do it, as I had the most experience in doing halos. Then I found that when...I wasn't here, due to being on vacation or out of town, the staff stepped in and did a great job-and improved on what I had been doing. I found that perhaps I was holding people back, and now I try to stand aside....I have been blessed with a great group of...self-starters."

According to Ronald Manganiello, CEO, New England Orthotic and Prosthetic Systems, delegating is a must. He asks, "How can you build a business without delegating? How can you attract and retain good employees without giving them opportunity for advancement? And how can you stay healthy and live a full life if all you do is work?"

He adds, "I don't find delegating difficult because I have hired terrific, competent and loyal employees. My advice is to only hire the best people."

From these experiences, you can see that ultimately the transfer of responsibility is going to boost the confidence of all involved-and the reward will be people who enjoy their work!

How To Delegate

The following tips from are simple and straight-forward:

Deciding what to delegate:

One way of deciding what to delegate is simply to list the things that you do which could be more effectively done by someone either more skilled in a particular area, or less expensive. Alternatively you can use your activity log for deciding what to delegate: this will show you where you are spending too much time on low-yield jobs.

Select capable, willing people to carry out jobs:

Good people will be able to carry out large jobs with no intervention from you. Inexperienced or unreliable people will need close supervision to get a job done to the correct standard. However, if you coach, encourage, and provide practice for them, you may improve their ability to carry out larger tasks unsupervised.

Delegate complete jobs:

It is much more satisfying to work on a single task than on many fragments of different tasks. If you delegate a complete task to a capable assistant, you are also more likely to receive a more elegant, tightly integrated solution.

Explain why the job is needed and what results are expected:

When you delegate a job, explain how it fits into the overall picture of what you are trying to achieve. Ensure that you communicate effectively what is needed and when.

Then let go! Give help and coach when requested:

It is important to support your subordinates when they are having difficulties, but do not do the job for them.

Accept only finished work:

You have delegated a task to take a workload off you. If you accept jobs that are only partially completed, then you will have to invest time in completing them, and your assistant will not get the experience he or she needs in completing projects.

Give credit when a job has been successfully completed:

Public recognition both reinforces the enjoyment of success with the assistant who carried out the task and sets a standard for other employees.

Cut these steps to successful delegation out of this article and post them on your desk or bulletin board. Follow them, and soon they will become second nature. Sure, there will be times when problems arise. But the overall benefits of delegating effectively will be worth the effort, both to yourself and your staff.

The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it. -Theodore Roosevelt

Jodi Mills is a freelance writer based in Arvada, Colorado.

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