How and when to delegate

Delegating is the act of entrusting someone with a task and/or responsibility, usually with less seniority than the person who is delegating. Leadership is an ongoing act of delegating tasks and responsibilities. It seems like a straightforward activity, but it has several important aspects to consider to increase the chances of success.

Jurgen Appelo, author of the aforementioned book Management 3.0: Leading Agile Developers, Developing Agile Leaders, comments that delegating is not a binary decision to which you delegate or do not delegate. There are other levels of delegation between these two extremes and each of these other levels should be used depending on the context, that is, the problem to be solved and who will be working on the problem. According to him, there are seven levels:

  • Say: you make decisions and announce them to your team. In fact, this is not delegation. (=
  • Sell: you make decisions, but try to “sell” your idea to your team.
  • Consult: you invite your team to comment and consider their contributions.
  • Agree: you invite your team to participate in a discussion and reach a consensus as a group. Your voice is just like the others.
  • Advise: you try to influence your team by giving them advice, but let them decide what to do with your opinion.
  • Ask: you let the team decide. And then you ask about their motivations or ask them to actively keep you informed.
  • Delegate: you leave it entirely to the team to handle the matter, and you don’t even need to know what decisions they make.

I confess that in my day to day I don’t think about what kind of delegation I’m doing in each situation, it’s something more intuitive, but it’s good to be aware of and to remember these different levels of delegation. I have the impression that between “saying” and “delegating” there are more than 5 options. We navigate between these options fluidly according to the seniority of the team, the specific experience of the team with the topic in question, and how much this topic implies in any kind of risks.

The concept of delegation goes hand in hand with the concept of micromanagement:

Micromanagement

Micromanagement is the management style in which the manager closely observes or controls the work of his subordinates or employees. Micromanagement generally has a negative connotation.

Source: Wikipedia

Micromanagement shows the leader’s inability to delegate. There are usually two reasons for a leader to micromanage his team:

  • Insecurity: the leader is insecure, concerned with doing everything right, so he wants to follow every detail of everything that is being done. In some (many) cases, this leader will do the work of a person on your team to ensure that it is being done “the right way”. This type of leader often creates many rules and procedures to ensure that things are being done the way he takes for granted.
  • Personality: It is the leader’s personality to enjoy seeing people suffering under pressure. This leader tends to be abusive on a daily basis with the team. He won’t do anyone’s job, but he will follow all the details closely to see them uncomfortable under this constant scrutiny.

The most common is to find leaders with insecurity, usually people who are leading for the first time, but who eventually end up understanding their role and exercising delegation. Leaders who micromanage because of their personality are rare and unlikely to change.

People on a team that is being micromanaged tend to quickly disengage. Once they are doing things the manager’s way, they do not perceive themselves as responsible for the result obtained, whether the result is good or bad. If the result is good, the leader will probably attribute success to his way of doing things. If it goes wrong, the person who did the job will not feel responsible, as he “just followed orders”.

Ways to do

One of the biggest barriers to delegation is the leader’s certainty that his way of doing things is the right one. When he was an individual contributor he did things that way and the result came. So much so that he was promoted to manager for doing things that way. So, what he understands that he has to do as a manager is to make sure that all the people on his team do things the way he does. At that moment, this leader’s need for micromanagement appears.

A leader must always focus on the expected result. The way in which this result is achieved is less important than obtaining the result. If a person on your team does things differently than you usually do, it does not mean that the way they do it is wrong (of course, as long as it is not an illicit way and does not harm people). It’s just a different way of doing things. Perhaps even more efficiently. The leader needs to respect this diversity of ways of doing things and only present his way of doing it when he realizes that the person is not managing to evolve alone.

Learning opportunity

Every time we delegate something for someone to do, if it is the first time that person is doing it, it will be a learning opportunity. For this reason, the person is very likely to make some mistakes, and here comes one of the most difficult trade-offs of a leader. How much error is acceptable? This depends a lot on each situation, it is up to the leader to understand if the mistakes are acceptable to allow learning, or if given the criticality of the work to be done, mistakes must be minimized. We must always create an environment conducive to learning from mistakes, as this will be the most effective learning. That’s what I try to do with the teams I lead.

Summing up

  • *Delegating is the act of entrusting someone with a task and/or responsibility. Leadership is an ongoing act of delegating tasks and responsibilities.
  • Between not delegating and delegating there are several levels of delegation that are used according to the context, that is, the problem to be solved and who will be working on the problem.
  • The concept of delegation goes hand in hand with the concept of micromanagement, a management style in which the manager closely observes or controls the work of his subordinates or employees.
  • There are different ways of doing things to achieve the same result. New leaders often think that only their way of doing things is right.
  • Mistakes are incredible learning opportunities. Hence the importance of tolerating mistakes at work.

Okay, with this chapter we conclude the part about my personal principles of leadership (people: priority # 1 – always, leading is like being a doctor, leading under pressure, mentoring is a two-way street, and how and when to delegate). In the next chapters, we will see what culture is and what values ​​I believe are mandatory to create successful digital products.

Missing something?

So, did you miss something in this chapter? What else would you like me to cover?

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