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Delegation Is Not a Four Letter Word

Throughout my career, I have worked for a few different managers/supervisors and each one had their own style of leadership —some good and some not so good. These differences tended to shape not only how those leaders interacted with their employees, but also how they lived their lives outside of work.

The term work-life balance is one that is used more and more in the workplace, and one of the biggest factors that affected the work-life balance of these leaders is how they delegated tasks to their teams. To simplify this into a blog-length topic, we will concern ourselves with two levels of delegation; those that delegate too much, and those that do not delegate enough. Both approaches have more negative aspects than positive aspects, so the goal for any leader should be to find the middle ground between doing everything yourself and trusting your team to do their jobs.

We will tackle the manager who delegates too much first. This is the leader that, either through lack of knowledge or through lack of will, does not work with their team in any capacity. They view their jobs as just being the functionary on the team, there to fill out paperwork and approve time off requests. While this makes their day-to-day tasks pretty easy, it can lead to resentment and even outright rebellion from the team if this behavior continues for an extended period of time.

You will see this type of anger or resentment more quickly in supervisors of manual labor positions who  never step in to help when higher volume causes longer hours or when an employee calls in sick and their workload is shifted to the other people working the same shift. This is when a supervisor who delegates too much may have some nice words or may even buy lunch for their staff every once and a while but, after a few instances, the team will notice that when the real work starts, that “leader” is still sitting in the office and not pitching in where the real help is needed.

The key for this type of position is to learn what your team does and to ensure that if the “you know what” hits the fan, you can be there pitching in with the rest of the team. Nothing ruins a team’s sense of cohesion more than seeing one person not pulling their weight.

However, if you are always doing the work for your team then you can tip too far in the other direction and end up not giving your team a chance to grow in their roles. This brings us to the manager that does not delegate enough. Their team loves them, but their family may not even know them because they spend more time at work than at home. This is not a sustainable way to live, and while your team may like you, they are not learning how to perform without you.

One of the most important jobs of a leader is to ensure that your team has room to grow within their role, so they can move onward and upward into their next opportunity. If you are always doing the harder work for them or never even letting them attempt to grow outside of their normal duties, then you are hindering their long-term career goals.

And this concern does not even touch on the personal toll that this type of work behavior would have on the leader. There are only so many hours in the day, so if you are doing your job and the jobs of your team as well, it means that it comes out of your personal time away from the office. This can lead to stress, anxiety, or even burnout. This does not help your team, and it certainly does not help you.

The key is to know what tasks to delegate to your team, and when to delegate them. To do this, you first need to know yourself and your capabilities to know when you can pitch in. Next, you need to know your team’s current capabilities and their future career goals. Once you know these things, you can make more informed decisions on when to delegate and when to step in and do the tasks yourself.

Think of it as a balancing act; the true role of a manager is balance. If you tip too far in either direction, then you will start to see negative side effects but if you can stay balanced, your team will flourish and you will not have to work 15-16 hour days.

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Want to Learn More?

Enjoy our new podcast episode on Friday: Leadership and Delegation Styles with Dr. Don Azevedo

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