Guiding people by a kite string, not a leash

Guiding people by a kite string, not a leash: That is what one of my clients stated when he was discovering his ability to delegate.

Delegation is a challenge for many of my clients. It derives from several different managerial questions: How do I get my staff to take more responsibility? How do I spend less time guiding people to the right solutions? How do I motivate people? How do I gain more patience with my reports? How do I get home in time for dinner?

The answer is delegation.  It is not an easy answer. Delegation, at its simplest, means assigning tasks to other people. But there is a lot involved. First, you need to choose an appropriate task for the person; let’s call the person Jack. Appropriate means Jack has the right skills for the task, or most of the skills. Best if there are some skills Jack will learn while completing the task. Second, you need to clarify for Jack what your expected outcome is: What will be the result of the task if Jack does it well? Third, or perhaps this comes second, consider whether Jack is interested in doing this task. It may require some motivational skills to push Jack out of his comfort zone if he is at all hesitant, and that will mean you have to show support for Jack in building his confidence or interest. Define the benefit for Jack of completing this task: he will get to do some new things, build some new skills, interact with new people, work at a higher level,  . . .  And be sure to let him know he can come to you with any questions he has.

Then comes the hardest part.  You need to let go.  Jack might do the task differently than you would.  It might be slower, involve different people, use a different process, or just be different in some other way. Resist the temptation to jump in and correct. If you have defined the outcome well, you should trust that Jack will work toward that outcome, even if he goes about it a different way. But letting go does not mean forgetting about the delegated task.  You should provide opportunities to check in with Jack: How is it going? What steps have you taken? What progress are you seeing?  What help do you need from me, if any? Jack might make some mistakes. But this is how he will learn. It is probably how you learned. Your job is to check in often enough to make sure mistakes are not dire, but not so often that Jack feels smothered.

In the end, delegation will encourage Jack to take responsibility for the effort and take pride in it. He will learn skills and be motivated to guide himself to the right solution.  Your patience will pay off. And you will get home earlier for dinner.

Kite string, yes. Leash, no.

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