Delegation: What Every Manager Needs to Know

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Delegation is a gift. It empowers others. When done properly, it strengthens the execution and leadership muscles of individual contributors, enables project teams to thrive, and permits leaders to stop micromanaging and start contributing where they’re needed most.

Just about anyone who is successful is highly engaged in delegating tasks, otherwise they would never be able to become as big as they have become. Delegation skills, much like many other soft skills, can come to define an individual’s success and can prove to be much more important than focusing on certain technical skills.

The 5M model described below is one of the ways which can be adopted by organizations to drive effective delegation.

Measuring Progress – of the tasks and activities identified for delegation to ensure that agreed milestones/results are being met timely by the employee

Managing Problems – by anticipating and helping remove possible roadblocks for the employee in the delegated tasks so that he/she feels amply supported and also gains confidence in doing the tasks independently

Monitoring Systems – by establishing a mutually agreed review mechanism  between manager and employee to facilitate routine evaluation and feedback.

Success should be applauded and failures analyzed  to turn them into learning opportunities

Maintaining Responsibility – by clearly defining the accountabilities of the employee on the delegated tasks so that he/she has complete ownership  on the tasks assigned

Mentoring Development –  by coaching and guiding the employee through the delegated tasks to help them perform at their peak and enable them to grow while completing the delegated tasks.

Successful delegation is the hallmark of successful managers. They do not view delegation as an abdication of responsibility, rather  as a powerful tool for empowering and developing their subordinates.

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We have all heard of elephant and ant stories. Here is one version which I love the most. A mighty elephant in a forest is extremely proud of his strength and power. It could fell trees, kill lions, tigers and other wild animals. One day he saw an ant on the leaf of a tree and laughs at her tiny structure. Then there is sudden rain, wind and storm and the elephant and the ant rush to a cave for shelter. The cave gets blocked with big rocks falling from rain and wind. The elephant tries hard but could not move the rocks. The ant due to her small size is able to make her way out through small gaps between the rocks. The elephant dies a slow, painful death outside the cave.
What is our usual reaction to a disability, disadvantage or difficulty? – fear, anger, frustration, sadness, despair etc. Most of these emotional reactions are negative and we are tuned to see difficulties as something undesirable and to be avoided. Is it possible to feel positive, powerful, creative, different, energetic when we face a challenge or a problem?

The answer lies in our ability to see ‘advantages of disadvantages’ and ‘disadvantages of advantages’- proposed by Malcolm Gladwell in his book ‘David & Goliath’. If we set our mental frames to look beyond the obvious disadvantages and obvious advantages, we may discover enormous possibilities and strengths leading to huge success. The book is rife with such examples where weak defeats strong, unconventional beats conventional and difficulties are turned desirable once people discover and mobilize their ‘hidden’ strengths invisible to others. David, a small, ordinary looking shepherd kills a giant called Goliath by using unconventional method of battle – using a slingshot rather than hand to hand fight. What looks like David’s weakness –short and thin body- turns out to be his biggest strength as it provides him agility and speed which is disastrous against Goliath’s huge but slow moving stature.

david and goliath

Another powerful example is that of people suffering from dyslexia. Dyslexia, a disability which leads to difficulties in reading and writing is turned desirable when people suffering from it sharpen their alternate skills – listening and memorizing instead of reading and writing, openness and disagreeableness instead of conventional thinking and social acceptance. Richard Branson, Bill Gates, John Chambers, Craig McCaw, Charles Schwab…..the list of successful dyslexic people is endless. The book cites a research which claims that one third of world most famous entrepreneurs are dyslexic.

Getting back to our ant and elephant story – What looks like an advantage or strength at one situation may turn out to be a big disadvantage or disability at another time. Many times we misinterpret and misread conflicts and difficulties. Power is not limited to physical might, size or wealth. Once we realize this, our struggle, conflict turns into valuable and beautiful experience helping us learn biggest life lessons .