What messages are you sending when you refuse to delegate?

Recently I met up with a senior colleague who is a truly exceptional manager: great at leading, great at delegating and outstanding at bringing out the best in their staff.

Speaking with someone with such highly developed skills reminded me of the importance of delegating well. You can see that this is an issue we have written about frequently before, including in our series on effective delegation.

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Are you prepared to take the time to delegate effectively?

Our discussion came around to the messages you are sending when you don’t delegate. The first is that you simply don’t trust your staff to do their jobs.

My colleague gave the interesting example of a second level manager intervening unnecessarily between their direct report – the first level manager – and the first level manager’s own team. When senior managers do this, they tell both the first level manager and the team that they don’t trust the first level manager to do the job well. What a terrible message to send!

The second message you send by not delegating, is that you don’t think your staff are worth the investment of your time. To delegate effectively means supporting people as they learn to do their jobs, helping them grow as technical staff, managers and leaders. This takes time – delegating isn’t only about lightening your own workload. You need to dedicate the time, and be prepared for the fact that, in the early stages, delegating will actually slow down workflow and increase your workload. The payoff comes later in the form of a skilled, motivated team.

As well as sending messages about your staff, you also send messages about yourself. When you do the work of the people who report to you, you are saying that you can’t manage them and their performance effectively. If you are in a management role, you need to be a manager.

The fourth message you send about yourself is potentially the most destructive to your career. You are saying that you are not comfortable working at your own level but only at the level of your reports.

If you send this message, your own manager has every right to wonder why you have been promoted to management when you are not working at that level.

An executive coach can help you work on strategies for good delegation. In the meantime, you will find some suggestions to explore in our posts on scaffolding and helping your team rise to the challenge.

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