How to step back and delegate without losing control

Orchestrate time, talent against priorities

By Jeanne Sahadi, CNN Business

You know you can't do everything yourself. You know micromanaging is bad. And you know no one likes a control freak. So that leaves you with one option as a manager: Get good at delegating.

ATLANTA - You know you can't do everything yourself. You know micromanaging is bad. And you know no one likes a control freak.

So that leaves you with one option as a manager: Get good at delegating.

Most people think that means doling out assignments, setting deadlines, telling employees you trust them to get the work done and then staying out of their way.

There's actually a lot more to it, if your end goal is success.

"Delegation is the orchestration of talent and time against priorities," said executive coach Jesse Sostrin, author of "The Manager's Dilemma." "It's really the art of getting to know what others care about and then aligning your priorities with their commitment."


Remember it's part of your job ... and key to your success


A big reason why some managers don't delegate enough is that they are fearful. They may worry they can't trust someone else to do something as well as or as quickly as they could. They're worried their reputation will be harmed if the person to whom they delegate messes up. Or they may feel threatened by a direct report's talents.

And they may not even realize that's why they're taking on too much.

"It's often an unconscious fear," said HR consultant Phyllis Hartman of PGHR Consulting.

Figure out what your issue is, then move past it by recognizing delegating is part of your job. It's essential if you're to succeed in boosting productivity and helping your team members develop professionally.

"You won't have a high-performing team if you micromanage because you're saying, 'I don't have confidence in you,'" said Tracy Spears, founder of Exceptional Leaders Lab. "You absolutely cannot scale."


Be smart about which tasks to delegate


If you're having a hard time figuring out which tasks to delegate, ask yourself three questions, recommended Bill Thomas, managing principal of leadership and HR consulting firm Centric Performance.


  • Is this task the best use of my time -- or could it be better spent doing something else?
  • Who else could handle this now if I were unavailable?
  • And what's stopping me from delegating this?


Thomas says that in his experience, more than half of managers spend time doing things that are part of the job description of those who report to them.


Set clear expectations from the outset


Figure out what you want the end result to be with every assignment. Then communicate that clearly and frequently to all involved.

"Let people know what success looks like," Spears said. "Say 'These are my non-negotiables. I care deeply about these two things.' If you get good at doing that, you eliminate a lot of problems."

It also helps to let people know the level of quality a given task requires. Everything should be done well, of course. But not everything has to be perfect if that means extra time, whereas some tasks will require the utmost care, she said. So let your team know what's needed.


Regularly check in on your team's progress


A lot of times a project may be delegated only to have the manager panic in the 11th hour about how everything's coming along. So she takes the project over herself or just micromanages everything.

Smart delegators never put themselves -- or their teams -- in that jam, Sostrin said.

Instead, they conduct dry runs with their team at various stages. They imagine the project is finished, and discuss any concerns the team has so they can decide what needs to be done well before the deadline.

"Good leaders preempt their insecurities early. They don't wait till the 11th hour. They pressure test each step along the way," Sostrin said.

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