Delegating with Dignity

Written by Jennifer Griggs

Several years ago, I realized that one reason I always felt like I was drowning was because I did everything myself. I did understand that we are supposed to handle email and paper items only once–delete, do, delegate, blah blah. I could do and I could delete, but delegating was an insurmountable challenge for me. You may have the same issue.

Delegation is an essential skill for any effective leader.”

– Daniel Goleman

Here are some of the common reasons I found it hard to delegate. You may see yourself here and have your own special brand of resistance. 

I thought that delegating was dumping. Here’s the difference.

 When we delegate, we give people autonomy. Dumping, in contrast, is assigning a task without allowing people to make their own decisions about how, when, and where it should be done.

I am a (recovering) perfectionist. I am a stickler for proper punctuation, formatting, and all the other things that make our work look professional. I blame it on the fact that I was an English major, that I read a lot, and that I’ve served as a journal editor and grant reviewer. You may feel that you are the only one who can do things the “right” way. Here’s what I learned, my team members have their own brilliance. Once I share the reasonable ways I want things to look and let go of the unreasonable expectations, people are on board and produce more beautiful work than I do. 

I was always under deadlines. By Friday evening, the undone monster was most definitely mine to finish for a Monday deadline. I learned how to plan ahead with the support of our team’s manager so that there was plenty of time for others to collaborate on the important project. In fact, our team now has everything done without drama, and our work is polished. 

I didn’t have the time to explain how I thought things should be done. Yes I did have the time. I had to change the intention with which I worked. Not explaining keeps people small. It kept myself small. It kept me from doing the things that I should be doing as the director of the program. 

Here are some other reasons you may struggle with delegation:

Fear of losing control. You may worry that others won’t handle the responsibility in the way they would. (See “perfectionism” above.)

Lack of trust in your team members or colleagues.

Insecurity about your abilities can lead to a reluctance to delegate. You may worry that delegating tasks could make them appear less competent or necessary.

Lack of communication skills regarding expectations, deadlines, and any specific requirements. Negative Experiences. Experiences of delegation gone wrong, such as misunderstandings, mistakes, or missed deadlines, can create a reluctance to delegate again. Negative experiences can leave a lasting impact on a person’s willingness to entrust tasks to others.

Delegate comes from the word “to send on one’s behalf. I like to think of it as giving someone freedom to fly.”

All of these can be overcome because here’s the thing…each of the people on your team has value (read: dignity). If you’re new to delegating, try these 9 things:

  1. Acknowledge Expertise. Recognize and acknowledge the specific expertise and skills of individuals when selecting and assigning work. 
  2. Value Contributions. Highlight how their work significantly contributes to the overall success of the team or project.
  3. Individualize Work. Tailor the work to align with individuals’ strengths and interests.  You have to understand your team…what is it they like to do, hate doing, want to learn?
  4. Collaborate. Involve team members in decision-making processes related to work that needs to be done. This takes intention.
  5. Communicate. Communicate the reasons behind the work, the desired outcome, and the resources available to complete the work.
  6. Encourage Autonomy. Provide people with autonomy and flexibility in how they approach and complete tasks. This is how you avoid “dumping.”
  7. Give Positive Feedback. Acknowledge the effort and dedication that individuals put into their delegated tasks. Regularly express appreciation for hard work.
  8. Encourage Initiative. Encourage individuals to take initiative and propose improvements or innovative solutions. People need to feel safe to take initiative.
  9. Emphasize Team Success. Highlight how each person’s role contributes to the collective success of the team.  

 

Is it worth the time? Unequivocally yes. I now work a normal schedule. I know that someone always has ideas that are better than mine. My team has my back. I do not bump up against deadlines that keep me up late or lead to adrenaline coursing through my veins.

One last thought…If you do not have someone to whom you can delegate, it’s time to get help. You will not achieve your potential without the support of a community of people with whom you can share the work. Need help getting help? There are books that can help, you can get a coach, you can ask your colleagues how they were able to get help. Don’t let this stop you. You are unstoppable.