The Three Levers of Delegation Hydraulics (part 1 of 3)

By Tom Davidson

Better delegation begins with an attitude adjustment,change your mindset about delegation, and you’ll change the results of your delegations.

I admit it. I’m a little “old school,” still addressing people as “ma’am” and “sir,” still getting an actual newspaper delivered to my home, and still cutting and splitting my own firewood by hand. But things are changing – at least in regard to the firewood. 

My wife and I live on a 15-acre woodlot, so it only makes sense to augment our home heat system (and reduce our power bill) by taking advantage of the occasional dying or overtopped trees on our property as a renewable source of heat. So last week, I felled an 18-inch diameter red oak that was already dead, de-limbed it, and bucked it into firewood-length pieces in preparation for next winter. 

It was what happened next that caused me to think more deeply about delegation, one of the most important and still most-difficult management skills to adopt and master. 

Looking at the long row of large-diameter wood chunks, the reality of splitting them started to sink in once again, an annual challenge that requires a splitting mall, sweat and swearing, and lots of time that I could – and should – be spending differently. 

It was time. I made the leap. Rather than plowing slowly, very slowly, through the big chunks of tenacious wood, I rented a hydraulic wood splitter from the local hardware store for half a day and $65. 

What does this have to do with delegation? 

  1. Mindset – The biggest hurdle to delegating our work to others is our own attitude; the self-induced need to do the job one’s self rather than appropriately relying on others.
  2. Skills – The understanding that delegation is not abdicating responsibility for a job, it’s using different skills to get more work accomplished and freeing one’s self to use limited time more wisely.
  3. Follow through – The need to maintain contact, care and control of an important task remains, even though the job is being done differently or by someone else. 

The rest of today’s blog will focus on the first of these three, while we’ll discuss skills and follow through in tomorrow and the next day. 

Better delegation begins with an attitude adjustment, something like the one I experienced with the wood splitter. I had a mindset that splitting my own wood by hand was a sign of strength, youth and a certain kind of work ethic. I’ve also had a romantic notion that pulling together a large firewood pile each year feels pioneer-like, virile and independent. 

In a similar way, managers who fail to delegate sufficiently, tell themselves “stories” that prevent them from doing the best thing for themselves and their organizations. They think: 

– I can do the task faster myself rather than take the time to show someone else how to do it; so I might as well do it myself.

– I can do the job better than others, because I’ve done it many times before. So I don’t want to sacrifice quality by giving the task to someone else.

 – If I do the job myself, I’ll be sure it gets done and won’t have to risk my own reputation and rewards by depending on someone else.

These are the mental attitudes, which are based in truth but don’t take in the big picture situation. The big-picture truths and the new “stories” you need to embrace are these: 

– You might be able to do it faster, but it’s no longer your job. As a manager, your new job is to help others learn how to do it so that capacity of the organization is developed.

– Your way of doing it might have been high quality, but that doesn’t mean others can’t do it equally well or even better.

 – Delegation certainly brings risk, but not delegating has even more risk. When managers get stuck in the weeds, doing the work of others, they get pulled off your more strategic duties. 

Change your mindset about delegation, and you’ll change the results of your delegations. No one can do this part of delegation but you! 

Check this blog series tomorrow for the other two game-changing delegation factors. 

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