Delegation: why is it so hard?

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Delegation – or frankly the inability to do it – is often one of the biggest constraints on business growth. Leaders, no matter how good, have finite capacity, and eventually even the best run out of bandwidth and become bottlenecks in their own organisation. So why do so many leaders find delegation so hard?

One of the biggest transitions in any career is that from functional expert to leader. As a leader, your role is to get the best out of others. That often means accepting you no longer need to be, or have the time to be, the best accountant, marketeer, engineer etc. Your future is now about the bigger picture – spending more time on the business than in it.

Empowering others is a big part of delegation. It isn’t about simply handing over tasks. You have to pass on the authority to make the relevant decisions too. And it is this authority dimension that is one of the biggest barriers to delegation. It comes invariably from a lack of confidence in others to make the right decisions.

If you don’t trust people you’ll struggle to let go of power. And if you can’t let go of power you will never delegate successfully. It is a vicious circle that has to be broken. Otherwise, all the decisions end up reverting to you. As a result, you’ll become bogged down in operational detail and never find the time and space for strategy and innovation – let alone your people. Who by now are probably feeling highly demotivated by the fact you never trust them.

One of the great things about my job is I still have the chance to work as a consultant and facilitator. Be that delivering talent management projects or designing and leading development events for audiences ranging from high potential graduates to Chief Executives/MDs.

Just before the pandemic brought face-to-face learning events to a halt, I had a brilliant opportunity to work with several groups of high potential individuals to explore what stops their people – and them – from exercising great business judgement.

We explored the complex nature of business decision-making. Not least as one of the big factors shaping our choices and dictating our actions is our own personality. We all see the world differently, have different motivators and preferences and we can display different threat/reward responses to the same situations.

In total, we explored seven “forces” impacting on business decision-making and how they have the potential to both enhance and compromise our choices. The challenge to the delegates being to take that learning back to their businesses and use it to develop their own people to make better decisions. In turn, creating the confidence and ability to delegate.

For ambitious SME businesses, people development in areas like delegation will be a key factor in long-term success. Often though they feel they can’t afford the kind of executive, leadership and management development opportunities offered by larger corporates or top business schools.

Chiumento has developed a specialism in designing and developing powerful but affordable interventions – what we describe as “latest thinking, practically applied” – for SMEs. So if you are looking for inspiration, or have a challenge you’d like to discuss, just reach out. We are always happy to invest time in understanding your business and talk through what we can bring to your talent management agenda. Be that a “turnkey” solution or coaching and mentoring to grow your own HR capability.

‘Delegation: why is it so hard?…’ was written by Ian Gooden, CEO, Chiumento Ltd. If you like what you’ve read why not follow us on LinkedIn and read all our future musings on the world of work.

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