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In many of the leadership programmes I run I ask the group of participants to line up; one end of the line being “I am not comfortable with delegation” and the other end being “I can always improve, but I think I delegate well”.

I ask participants to talk to a neighbour near them on the line about why they had chosen their spot, and to discuss what their thoughts and feelings about delegation are.

At the “I am not comfortable with delegation” end of the line, we usually hear thoughts like:

  • It will take longer to teach someone else how to do this, than to do it myself
  • No-one else will do it to my standards
  • There is no-one to delegate to!

It’s always interesting to watch the body language. The squirming, the lack of comfort, the embarrassment. They want to be better at delegation, they feel they ought to be, and yet there is something getting in the way. Something unspoken.

Leadership Training in Northern Ireland

“Women in Tech” Leadership Programme in Northern Ireland


In the middle of the line, where they is a degree of comfort with delegation, the answers are usually like this:

  • I can delegate sometimes, but not always. It varies, depending on the complexity of the task, on the relationship with the other person, on how important or urgent it is
  • Sometimes I finding I am delegating sideways or upwards. This can feel different too.

“Growing Your Leadership Edge” programme in Uganda


The WOW factor for me though, is that with the people at the “I can always improve, but I think I delegate well” end of the line, there is always an astonishing difference. It becomes much, much less about the task and much, much more about the development of others.

  • It can be an opportunity to encourage others to try something new
  • I can empower someone to take more responsibility
  • By growing the capacity of my team, I have time for more strategic issues.

These people “get” people, and recognise the leverage that comes from expanding what the team can deliver in this way.

Those who find delegating difficult, as they hear what all parts of the line say, recognise slowly their unspoken thing. It is their need to feel in control.

Their need to feel that they are staying in control is hindering how well they can delegate. Also as well as an unwillingness to delegate, when they do delegate; they constantly check on progress. This typically undermines their team member’s space to contribute and adversely impacts on confidence.

Recognising that control itself is largely illusory, and that the feeling of control can be achieved in different ways, can be helpful.

Try this approach to feel in control and delegate effectively:

1 – Be really clear on what the task is that you are handing over. What does success with the task look like? What is the quality needed? What are the timescales? Be ready to communicate this and check understanding with the other person.

2 – Choose your person carefully. Is this a stretch opportunity for an experienced person? Is this a task for a more junior person? Do they have the time, skills and attitude to succeed? Can you tap into their intrinsic motivation to succeed?

3 – Agree how to keep in touch. Doing this well can add comfort for both parties. Be clear and honest –  how much scope does the other person understand they have before they know to contact or update you? What information do you want and how quickly when there is a concern? What are your agreements, your groundrules with them about “no surprises”?

4 – Celebrate finished work. Give feedback on outcomes, review your process of working together and add to both your learning!

Needing to feel in control is very human. The person you are delegating to may need to feel in control too, so clarity from this process can add to their comfort as well as yours. It help them feel they can succeed, knowing that support is available from you as needed.

By becoming more skilled at creating clear expectations and open communication with a process like this, our need for overt control may ease up, take a back seat and operate more quietly in the background.

It can feel less like a seesaw and more like something you can do well.

Is there something here which could help you improve your delegation too?

Gill How loves to work globally and internationally with managers, executives and professionals to help them to evolve, stretch and grow their leadership capability. She is a Master Executive Coach, innovative Leadership Developer and harbours significant travel and walking goals! If she can help you in developing the potential of the professionals in your organisation, get in touch!

Join our EDI book/podcast club: This month we will be reading “The Book About Getting Older” by Dr Lucy Pollock.

It may be that we are getting older ourselves, care for parents who are older, or want to look at the factors of including older employees.

All are welcome! If you would like to join us and are not already on the email list, get in touch, and Gill will send you the zoom link!

Date and Time: Friday 28th July at 12.30pm BST (GMT+1) OR Monday 31st July at 5.30pm BST (GMT+1).

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Gill How

Helping leaders grow, step up and deliver outstanding results

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