Delegating is a critical skill for leaders, yet many struggle to do it, Deborah Grayson Riegel, a leadership coach and principal at The Boda Group, writes in Harvard Business Review. She offers eight tips on how leaders can delegate successfully.
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While business professionals stress the importance of delegating, "for many leaders, delegating feels like something they know they should do, but don't do," Riegel writes.
For leaders interested in delegating, the first step is to better "understand their own resistance," Riegel writes.
Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey, both professors at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, recommend leaders identify their professional goal and the behaviors that are keeping them from achieving that goal. Kegan and Lahey then recommend leaders examine those behaviors and ask themselves how they'd feel if the opposite occurred.
For example, they write a senior sales leader might want to delegate follow-up calls to big clients to his sales team, but the leader hasn't updated the appropriate database or might be in the habit of doing the calls. Riegel writes, "What if updating the … database in a timely manner meant pushing off other, more important activities? What if not calling customers meant that they felt ignored or disrespected, and they took their business elsewhere?"
This practice activates the "emotional immune system," Riegel writes, which helps ward off negative feelings, such as fear, loss of control, and disappointment. "For the senior leader to start delegating and stick with it, he needs to address these feelings, challenge his own assumptions about 'what if,' and try small, low-risk delegation experiments to see whether his assumptions are rooted in the truth or in his desire for safety," Riegel writes.
"Once a leader has begun to shift his or her mindset, it's time to start shifting behaviors," Riegel writes. To help leaders understand just how to change, Riegel shares eight practices "of leaders who delegate successfully":
"Delegating well helps leaders maximize their resources," Riegel writes, "ensuring that they're focusing on their highest priorities, developing their team members, and creating a culture where delegation isn’t just expected—it's embedded in the culture" (Riegel, Harvard Business Review, 8/15).
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