When you delegate - let them drive

Mark Lewis
December 12, 2017
min read
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If you see brake lights flashing in the distance, you slow down a touch. If you need to change lanes, you decide when it is prudent to do so. If there are parked cars in your way, you stop to let oncoming traffic get past. You might pass by a tight parking space in the search for a more accommodating one.

There are a thousand and one decisions that you make when you are driving from one destination to another, and there are subtle differences to every journey, no matter how many times you have done it. Whichever driving decisions you make on the way to your destination, they are your decisions, and you do everything in your power to get there in one piece. Any passengers place their trust in your ability to do so.

Well, maybe not every passenger….

Certain people get nervous when others are driving them around. They slam their foot onto a phantom brake pedal if they think that you have got too close. They flinch if you get too close to the curb, and inhale sharply when you run an orange light. It might not be their car, but they cannot relinquish their control over the outcomes.

This comparison often comes to my mind when I think about delegation in the workplace.

You wouldn’t get into a car as a passenger and tell someone which gear they should select or which lane they should be in. When assigning tasks to others, managers must leave their ego at the door and accept that not every task will be done “their way.” Everyone has their own success formula, and the moment that you dictate how something should be done, you are likely to cause frustration for the “driver”.

You wouldn’t dictate the exact route to the destination — unless they say they are unsure, it is best to assume that they have a route in mind. It is fair enough to check that someone knows where they’re going and ask if they need directions on how to get there, but the moment they say they have it covered, it is time to allow them to choose their route. In the workplace, there are many ways of achieving a goal or task, but without input from the individual, they will not take ownership of the journey or final result.

You wouldn’t put pressure on them to get you there within a certain time by speeding. Unrealistic deadlines are often the root cause of failed delegation. You have to put yourself in the shoes of the person, understand what’s involved and agree a realistic time frame with them rather than imposing something unachievable.

You wouldn’t be impatient with them when they’re adjusting the mirrors and their seat before they set off. Some people simply need a little time to adjust before they begin a task. Setting off in the right way is often half the battle, and if someone is not yet ready to start there is little value in impatiently pushing them to get going.

Effective delegation is about relinquishing control to the extent that it is possible. If it becomes obvious that someone is not coping with a task, it is entirely right to ask if they require help, but until that point a manager should sit back and enjoy the ride.

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