Recently I was having a conversation with a colleague about productivity. One of the topics that came up was that leaders need to delegate more and that productivity was “all about delegation”.
That got me thinking.
Leaders who default to a delegating leadership style certainly can reduce the chances that they’ll become overwhelmed. However, there are other factors to consider here too.
How Delegating Helps You
There are a few obvious ways that delegating will help you in your leadership role.
Obviously, delegation enables you to give work to other people so you don’t need to do it all yourself. This might mean passing it to your team, or other people in your organisation.
Delegation also allows people to complete multiple pieces of work in parallel, instead of needing to do them one after the other. This means you can complete complex work faster.
Using a delegating leadership style also means you can strategically build skills in your team, by delegating work that develops and motivates your people.
Sounds good, right? Well, it’s not the end of the story.
The Pitfalls of Having a Delegating Leadership Style
If your “go to” move is to delegate your work, you may feel like you’ve got the system worked out. Work comes in, and you send it on to other people in your team.
You start to act as a facilitator and coordinator of the work being completed, which certainly is part of leadership.
However, there are some considerations when adopting a delegating leadership style. As usual, it’s all about keeping things in balance. Let’s take a look at some of the potential downsides of delegating as your default move.
1. Delegating Leadership May Overwhelm Your Team Members
Leaders who delegate everything run the risk of overwhelming their team members.
The more you delegate, the better your team need to be at managing their time and workload.
It’s all very well to try to get things off your plate. But if you are simply removing work from your pile only to dump it onto someone else’s, this isn’t necessarily effective time management.
Remember that work often flows downhill. If you are unable to push back on the work coming into your area and you simply pass it down the line, your team will start to struggle.
To prevent this from happening, do the following:
- Keep on top of your team’s workload. Make sure you know who is doing what. Sometimes, work might be coming from different places in your organisation (not just you), so be sure to keep track of it.
- Encourage team members to practice good time management habits. Communicate openly and help your team members push back or negotiate their workload where they need to. Be a role model when it comes to being productive and effective.
- Focus on resourcing your team effectively. Work out how much work is too much for your team, and arrange for help where it’s needed. If you can’t hire more help, then you’ll need to limit or prioritise the work coming in.
2. You May Be Seen As Too “Hands Off”
Leaders who delegate everything are also at risk of being seen as “distant” or “hands off” managers.
This can cause your team to feel isolated or unsupported, if they see you as unapproachable or disinterested in getting involved in the work of the team.
Over time, you may also lose control of your team, as people feel free to go their own way.
While autonomy is good for motivation, losing oversight of what your team is doing can be risky.
Being detached from your team can also cause you to be distanced from the details of their work. You don’t need to know everything, but often you will be expected to be able to speak about the work of the team or report progress. Having no answers never looks very good!
As with many aspects of leadership, the key here is balance. If you don’t have the capacity to stay across the details, organise regular meetings with team members where you can understand a summary.
If something goes wrong and you aren’t aware of the issues, people may just start pointing fingers your way.
3. Team Motivation Can Suffer
We can use delegation as a great tool to develop and motivate our team members. When you select the right tasks to delegate, you can help people “step up” and take on new responsibilities, learning as they go.
However, the opposite is also true. If you delegate only the boring, mundane, transactional work and keep hold of the rest yourself, you’re likely to ruin motivation in the team.
This might keep things interesting for you, but you need to be aware of the impact it might have on the people you are delegating to. Be selective of the tasks you delegate, and don’t just hoard all the interesting work for yourself!
Learn More: How to Delegate Work to Improve Your Team.
4. Delegating Leadership Can Damage Team Trust
Sometimes in leadership, a good way to foster team spirit and a feeling of “togetherness” is to get stuck into some of the work yourself.
If you look like an “air traffic controller”, just facilitating and directing work but never doing any yourself, people may start to question the value of your role.
You may also appear that you’re more interested in being “the boss” ordering people around, rather than actually achieving a successful outcome for the team.
Where you can (and where it makes sense), take on some of the work yourself and show your team that you’re part of the team, not just the boss.
Once again, it’s about balance. You can’t get involved in all the work, because you’ll tread on the toes of your team members. But being a little more “hands-on” can be a good thing.
Being able to delegate effectively is a key skill, but it’s not a silver bullet. Relying too heavily on a delegating leadership style can have consequences for your reputation and the performance of your team.
Get the balance right, and you’ll see the benefits of delegation without the down-sides!
Want to Manage Your Time Effectively and Be a Better Role Model for Your Team? Try my Online Course.
The problem is, this can have an impact on your team. You need to set the right example.
That’s why I created the Time Management for Leaders Online Course, to help you focus on what matters, feel more organised and get your important work done.
The course is self-paced and contains tools and techniques to help you manage your workload, improve productivity and achieve the right outcomes for your team.
Have you ever delegated too much? How about too little? What were the consequences? Share your story with the Thoughtful Leader community in the comments below!