Are you a delegator or micromanager?

Are you a delegator or micromanager?

Leadership & Management

Sridhar Narayanaswamy

Sridhar Narayanaswamy

324 week ago — 8 min read

The dictionary defines delegation as the act of empowering another to act.  One of the first topics in Management 101, is to delegate - to assign some form of authority or responsibility to another.   


Wouldn’t it be nice if you were the manager  and were able to assign duties to your subordinates while you can sit back and relax? Well, it turns out, it’s not as simple as it sounds. Let me explain.


When I was younger, I aimed to be a perfectionist in whatever I did. Well, who wouldn’t want to be? I was the person who dotted all the i's and crossed the t's. I made sure my work output was above par each time. Unfortunately, this slowly led me into tight situations without my realising it. I had never wanted to delegate any or part of my work to others, for the fear that it will either be done wrong or will not be completed the way I wanted. So, I took it upon myself to do everything. I wished that I had 48 hours in a day - not just the 24 - to complete my work and have a little time to pursue my hobbies and interests. Does this sound like you?  


Then, one fine day I came upon an illuminating book that probably changed the way I thought about delegation. This book was called 'Managing Monkeys' by Ken Blanchard. It opened my eyes and taught me the fine intricacies of the art of delegation.


Let me share with you some of the things that I learnt.


As a manager who cannot or doesn’t know how to delegate, the usual justifications one often hears are:

  • They don’t have the necessary training to do the job themselves

  • I don’t trust him or her

  • I would have done it better

  • I want to delegate, but my subordinate does not like to take up responsibilities

  • I don’t have time to train others

  • I am passionate about my job so I would like to do it myself

  • I don’t want to delegate, else I will lose my job

  • They messed it up last time, so there’s no point in delegating


Some years ago, I had a boss who used to keep assigning me some tasks that he himself was more qualified to do than me. One day I walked up to him and asked him, “Why so? What if I mess it up?”. He looked at me in the eye and said, “I have confidence in YOU and that you will do it correctly. And I have confidence in ME to set things right if you do mess it up”.


That simple statement had a profound effect on me and my confidence. My respect for him rose tenfold. It was only years later that I realised he was quietly teaching me the art of delegation.


So why is delegation so important and how do we do it?

Before you delegate a task to someone, ask yourself: “Are they trained for that task?”.

If not, then spend some time in training and teaching them. This investment of time will bring in long term benefits for the manager who delegates and the trainee who will learn something new.  Together all this will positively impact the entire organisation.


A word of caution

Be careful though! Remind yourself that delegation is not simply about off-loading your responsibilities in the hope of you kicking back and putting your feet up.


Imagine you have delegated a task to your subordinate.  Now they decide to delegate this to his or her trainee who has had no training or experience in this task. What happens then? There would be a delay in the task getting completed. It could be messed up or lost in translation. Everything then circles back to you, the manager, who first set about delegating the task. Blames for the failures follows suit. The Manager has now become the Damager!


To delegate or not to delegate – That is the question

In my opinion, if a task need not be completed at this point of time, don’t delegate it. If it’s not your responsibility, don’t delegate it. If you have been working on a particular task because you enjoy it and has been a passion or compulsion, don’t delegate it.


As a manager in an organisation or a team, there will be routine tasks or activities that pop up every day. Examples include monitoring status mails of nightly jobs first thing in the morning, setting up meeting rooms for daily calls, routine data entry and filing, day to day checklists, monitoring etc.  If this kind of routine activity can be done by someone who is half as experienced as you, then delegate these tasks. When you know that a task is something you are either not sure of or is not in your expertise, then it is safer to delegate to someone who does.


A manufacturing organisation I knew once, believed that no ERP software package will ever fit their needs. So, they decided to do it themselves. They hired software professionals to develop the software for them. However, without proper guidance, the ERP software never materialised and was never implemented. So why did that fail? This was because the organisation was unwilling to delegate tasks that were not in their list of core competencies.


As the head of an organisation there are of course some activities that cannot be or must not be delegated. Some examples include hiring of new staff or employees, high level interactions with customers and clients, official disciplinary enforcement or re-training and such.  


It’s all in the planning 

When you decide to delegate a task, have a plan. Explain the task to the person you are giving the task to. Take some time to make sure that they understand what is needed of that task such as, how it could be done (don’t curb their creativity, maybe they may do it differently or better!), and the date of deadline.  You can be sure of getting the work done correctly.  Do not concurrently do the same task in parallel after delegating it. It will not fetch you friends. Trust your employees, just as my boss did many years ago.


Remember that delegation is a fine art of sharing the workload in an organization. As a manager, ensure you have delegated the right task to the right person. If at any time you find that things are not going well, then step in. Else, let them work on it the way they want to, independently.


Finally, here’s a little summary of what I have been talking about:


  • Ensure that the expectations are well understood

  • Set interim deadlines and monitor progress to avoid surprises

  • Assess a person’s capabilities before delegating

  • Spend time on training a person before delegating a new task to him

  • Trust your people, do not micro-manage after delegating a task

  • Do not blow-up short-term mistakes but review why something went wrong to avoid it next time

  • Encourage questions and listen to your subordinates

  • Share your experiences including failures. These act as lessons for your subordinates and let them know that bosses can make mistakes too.

  • Be open with your praises and encourage even minor successes


Happy delegating!


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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views, official policy or position of GlobalLinker.

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Sridhar Narayanaswamy

Managing partner of Innovatus Systems, founded by him on January 1, 2013. Sridhar is a result oriented professional with over four decades in the Information Technology &...

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