Five Common Human Barriers to Effective Delegation

person alone in stadium

Why is it, that when it’s time for some managers to “take the field” with their teams to get the work done, they find themselves alone? As I’ve worked with managers and their teams, I often find that the root cause is under-developed delegation skills. The symptoms of ineffective managerial delegation can be many including micromanaging, the constantly changing project outcome, lack of communication, and other undesirable results. This makes delegation an important development area for any manager who wants to improve their organizational effectiveness.

By definition, both management and leadership involve working with and through others to achieve desired outcomes. (After all, there is a limit to what any one of us can do alone.) We all know effective delegation skills are important. They can make or break a manager’s career! But, getting it right can be difficult.

What is it about delegation that makes this skill difficult to master for new managers and even for some experienced senior and middle level managers? The root cause may come from one or more five common human barriers to effective delegation.  Getting over these human barriers requires some emotional intelligence and personal development.  It requires taking a good look at ourselves and evaluating how we are doing with the following:

1.  Fear of Failure

What if they fail?  The reality is that everyone makes mistakes in the workplace and if managed appropriately mistakes can be excellent learning opportunities to improve performance, promote innovation, and improve operations.  To delegate effectively, managers must recognize their own fears and allow some room for their team to make mistakes.  With adequate development and trust, team members will more often meet the challenge than fail.

2. Envy of Your Staff Member’s Ability

So, you’re a little bit green with envy at that talented staff member of yours whose ability in a certain area outshines your own.  In your private thoughts, you know you are reluctant to delegate to her because she is so good at what she does.  So what should you do?

Talk to yourself and get over it!  Even laugh at your envy if you must!  Once you have intelligently dealt with your own negative emotions, let your talented staff member do what she does best.  Give her full credit as appropriate.   The truth is she makes you look good!  Let her excel and you’ll be known as a manager and leader who can utilize the talents of your staff effectively.

3.  I Can Do it Better Myself!

This is probably true!  After all, your technical ability is part of the reason for your success in your organization.  The correct question you should ask yourself, however, is the following: 

Should I be doing the work myself or is it better for me to delegate this work to someone else?

Your role as a manager is one of process to achieve organizational outcomes through organizing, controlling, planning, communicating, etc.  You can fulfill this role better when you are not bogged down with work that others should be doing. Invest the time in developing your people to perform these tasks.  Lower your standard to an acceptable level of performance.  They do not need to complete the task exactly as you would do it to meet organizational goals.  After all, there are many methods for accomplishing most tasks.

4. I Like To Do This Myself!

Understood!  There are some aspects of any job that are more enjoyable than others are.  The question here is the same as in item #3, however: Should you be doing the work yourself or should you delegate it to someone else?

There is a principle of delegation that says managers should delegate tasks that can be done by others.  Some managers take this advice too far and delegate everything to their staff members.  This is not what is meant.  Delegated tasks should be appropriate to the responsibilities and organizational level of the team member.  Further, there are some managerial tasks that are inappropriate for a manager to delegate to others to perform.  This human barrier to delegation addresses those tasks we like to do but really should not do because others can do them.  Let someone else enjoy this part of your job!

5. I Better Not Give Him Too Much Authority for This Task or I Will Lose Control

Part of delegating effectively is picking the right person for the task.  This requires assessing both their willingness and capacity to perform the task.  Assuming they have the right attitude and skill level to perform the task, give them the authority they need to complete the task for you.  As appropriate, establish check-in points so you can monitor their progress.  Don’t over-monitor them however (particularly your superstars) or you will frustrate them.  You have invested in their development and created a positive work environment for them to do their best–now you just need to trust them to give you the desired results.

Overcoming these DNA obstacles to delegation is critical to any manager’s success. When a manager cannot delegate work effectively, organizational stakeholders criticize him for his inability to use his human resources effectively. Higher level managers take note of this manager’s limitations and the under-utilization of his team and they exclude him from further promotional considerations. When a manager can delegate work effectively, organizational stakeholders praised her for her ability to get the best out of her people. Higher level managers take note of this manager’s ability to run a productive unit and they consider her for higher levels of management responsibility.

Delegation is a critical skill that takes some time to develop. It requires emotional intelligence because it affects some of our human emotions.  The better we become at recognizing these emotions and managing them appropriately, the more effective we will be as a delegator.  With practice, self-awareness, and the ability to “give ourselves a talking to” when needed, we can overcome the five common human barriers to effective delegation.

So, do you need to have a talk with that person who looks back at you in the mirror every morning?

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