Healthy Leaders


Under-Delegation vs. Over-Delegation

Jess MacCallumJess MacCallum

As a leader, if you don’t understand the power of delegation, then you’ve been missing out on the single most useful strategy for both attaining your goals, and developing your people ‒ especially the next generation of leaders.

For your people to have ownership in the goals you’ve set, they must have real responsibilities delegated to them. Delegation is a form of leverage. It accesses talents, creativity and time that the team has in its pool of resources. Not delegating is a waste of those resources and will make reaching your goals that much harder.

Delegation is also the number one development tool you possess as a leader. No amount of education (important), training (also important) or feedback (very important) can substitute for direct responsibility. Emerging leaders need to learn under the yoke of responsibility. Look back at your own growth as a leader to see the truth of this.

But there is a danger in both under-delegating and over-delegating.

Under-delegating: No one learns from hitting softballs. People need to have a real challenge, not just a fill-in-the-blank exercise. Under-delegating communicates that 1) your team members are flunkies, or assistants suited only for small and inconsequential tasks; 2) that you don’t know your team’s real capacity and strengths; 3) that you are a micro-manager, too insecure to turn things over; or 4) that you aren’t really interested in your team’s individual development.

Over-delegating: A critical task, but one too great to bear is not a learning opportunity, it’s a frustration. If you wonder whether you are over-delegating, ask yourself 1) did I rush my team member into a task before he was ready; 2) did I assign a task without aligning the necessary resources; 3) was I too vague in outlining the parameters for success; and 4) did I ask for feedback, or consider input, before I assigned the task?

Sometimes delegating is just as simple as matching a task to a known strength to get the job done. But it always carries some risks, and perhaps that’s the reason it works so well as a tool for development. It’s the degree to which we, as healthy leaders, are intentional about delegation that it will be most effective. Know your people, know their strengths and weaknesses; communicate clearly and monitor regularly; stretch your people but support them with the proper resources; above all they need your coaching and your time.

You’ll know you’ve hit the right balance in delegating when you, and your team, are both excited and scared at the same time.

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