Three Reasons Delegation Fails

Delegation is tricky and full of potential pitfalls. When we do it well we develop and grow others. When we don’t, we create sabotage. When we don’t do it at all we limit our growth and others. What is it that makes delegation so challenging to embrace and why do those who do it so often fail in reaching their goals? Let’s start with looking at what we really mean when we talk about delegation.

At Personify Leadership we define Delegation as: Sharing authority and responsibility with a delegate.
We define delegate as: One who is authorized to act for, or represent, others.

With those definitions in mind, let’s look at the three main reasons delegation fails.

Reason #1 We don’t want to be vulnerable 

When you read these definitions what is the first response or reaction you have? For most, it’s resistance. Most of us don’t like the idea of sharing authority and responsibility and having others represent us. Yikes! That feels risky. And the truth is, it is. There is some vulnerability in this process but without it we end up in the delegation doom loop where we don’t delegate because our delegate isn’t skilled, because we don’t delegate the team member remains unskilled. As a result, we continue to do the work ourselves because who wants an unskilled person representing us? So unfortunately, the delegate remains unskilled. It’s a vicious cycle that ends only when we are vulnerable enough to take responsibility for our role in the problem.

Reasons #2 We are confused and so are our delegates

 We have three primary modes of delegation. The first is Hands On, the next is Hand in Hand and the last is Hands Off. As leaders some of the things we consider when determining what level of support the delegate will need from us is 1) their skill 2) the visibility of the project, 3) the skill required for the project and 4) the appropriateness of their role to our project.

If we have selected a Hands On process, where we will continue to be responsible for and have authority over the majority of the outputs of the project. If we don’t communicate this effectively, the delegate may believe this is a Hands Off process. In the Hands Off process the delegate has the majority of the responsibility and authority of the project outputs. You can see how if both the leader and delegate are working with different definitions about what the process will look like that clarity about who does what can could be a problem.  Not to mention trust is at risk and poor results are likely to follow.

Reason #3 We don’t provide our delegates with Voice and Choice

Even when we do our best to give our team members instruction, direction, clear expectations and appropriate support, delegation can fail. Especially if we don’t give our delegate Voice and Choice.  Let’s take a closer look at some of the types of delegation situations that come up in the workplace where the leader does not provide voice or choice.

  • The leader provides the delegate a project and the delegate asks for a larger budget and longer time frame for completion. The leader responds with “Do what you can with what you have.”
  • The leader provides a task to the delegate but when the delegate asks the leader to consider a different approach the leader shrugs off the suggestion and says, “Just please do what I’ve asked. This way is tried and true.”
  • The leader provides the delegate a task that requires input from others to complete effectively but the leader asks the delegate not to communicate with anyone what they are working on and not to seek any additional input or assistance. When the delegate articulates her concerns, the leader goes silent for a couple of days and then minimizes the delegate’s role on the project giving her menial task to complete.

In these examples, the direction was clear, but the delegate did not have a voice or choice about the delegation. They were likely not fully motivated or committed to the project. And when delegates are forced to work without voice and choice, the will likely sabotage the project, leader or organization.

So what’s the solution? At this point we know delegation requires some effort on our part. This isn’t easy and maybe just knowing that is half the battle to get started and do it well. Here are three simple strategies that may help you overcome three reasons delegation fails.

  1. To start the delegation process begin by making two lists. The first is a list of all the things you do on a daily basis. The second list is all the things you would do if you could just get to them. Go back to your first list and identify the right people to support you in moving things on this list off your plate. Just do it! Don’t let yourself get stuck with making excuses because there are many!
  2. When you delegate, provide as much clarity as possible in the delegation conversation. Define the mode of delegation you are working from and be clear about what touch points are along the way as well as expected outcomes.

Give your delegate Voice and Choice in the selection of the delegation task and along the way. Make sure they understand the value of your request and let them share their concerns, ask questions and ultimately decide if they feel they are the right fit for your request.

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