In my coaching work, one common issue I see – especially in newly minted managers – is learning how to be successful in delegation. That’s not to say that these managers aren’t comfortable or are unwilling to delegate; most are more than happy to hand off assignments to their various team members. The problem is more of learning not to simply delegate tasks, but to delegate responsibility to those they lead.
One clear example of this form of delegation is problem-solving. Given how most managers are promoted to these positions based on their past accomplishments and level of expertise, it’s only natural that they feel responsible for trying to solve whatever problems their team encounters. Besides, it’s hard to turn people away who come to you asking for your help as this is a sign that they not only value and respect your insights, but that they trust your abilities to help resolve the situation.
Unfortunately, what this inevitably creates is a culture where, at best, your employees have an unwanted dependency on management to fix problems when they arise, or at worst, employees who basically clock-out when they arrive at work because the organization’s culture has removed any expectations on them to contribute their own problem-solving capabilities to the process.
Instead of being the go-to person for when your employees encounter an obstacle, why not be the leader who empowers them to solve it on their own? Why not give them the resources to solve the problem instead of allowing them to leave it on your plate? By implementing the four steps below, you can create a culture that not only promotes delegating more than just basic tasks, but one which encourages your employees to be active participants in your organization’s problem-solving process.
1. Be the first to show trust in the relationship
When leaders don’t hand out responsibility for solving issues to those they lead it’s often because they don’t want to risk losing control. And yet, if one thinks about it, empowering your employees to take charge for solving a problem doesn’t abdicate you of your role as their leader. Rather, it serves to free you from having to address one more detail that draws your focus away from the bigger issues that you should be addressing.
So how do we let go of this need to solve all the problems your employees come across? The first step is to trust them to solve it by giving them both the resources and latitude to tackle the problem. Granted, for someone whose used to putting out the fires, this can be a scary proposition. That is until you remember that you hired your employees to do this job. So why not let them do it?
2. Tell your employees to offer some possible solutions when they bring up problems
While trusting your employees to solve problems on their own is a major step forward, it’s also important that you follow this up with the clear message that if they bring problems to your attention, they also need to have at least one possible solution.
The reason for this is two-fold. First, it’s important to remember that like you, your employees are used to simply going to you with their problems and then expecting you to solve them. So, simply telling them that they now have to solve their problems on their own will feel like you’re just adding more work to their plate.
On the other hand, if you welcome their bringing problems to your attention – along with a possible solution for how to address it – they’ll not only have an easier time making this transition to solving problems without having to run it by you first, but both of you will begin to appreciate how capable they are of solving these issues on their own.
3. Give your employees space to do things differently and make mistakes along the way
We’ve all read about how we need to shift our perception of failure from being something to avoid to being an opportunity to gain a sense of clarity and understanding about what’s missing in our assumptions.
If your organization is to gain any benefits from failure, you need to show your employees that you trust their ability to figure out how to address the problems they’re facing. And if things do go wrong, rather than simply blaming them for ‘screwing up’, use it instead as a teachable moment where your employees can learn why the failure occurred and what you can collectively do to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
4. Show your employees that they can manage just fine without you
In his book “Management Challenges for the 21st Century”, Peter Drucker wrote that “most of us, even those of us with modest endowments, will have to learn to manage ourselves. We will have to learn to develop ourselves. We will have to place ourselves where we can make the greatest contribution.”
As leaders, one of the most effective ways we can facilitate and encourage our employees to reach their full potential is by empowering them to not only see that they can come up with viable solutions to the problems they’re facing, but by showing them that we’ll provide them with the necessary resources and support to implement their ideas.
In so doing, leaders can instill a sense of confidence and assurance in their employees that they can manage things just fine, without having to call upon those in charge to figure out what they have to do next.
As organizations begin to shift from the rigid hierarchical management of the past to the more open and collaborative models going forward, the time is fast approaching where leaders can no longer presume that they alone are capable of addressing the problems their organization is facing. Instead, what’s required from today’s leadership is creating a culture where delegation goes beyond simply handing out tasks to providing opportunities for others to take the lead.
Such cultural changes will prove to be a critical factor to determining an organization’s long-term viability and chances for continued success in the years to come.