Can Delegation Be Coached?

Successful leaders know the importance of delegation.   In my work with CEOs and senior managers in growing organizations, delegation is one of their biggest challenges.  Leaders may understand the importance of delegation, but they often struggle with implementing an effective delegation process.

The primary purpose of delegation is to engage associates to take on more responsibility and authority, thus relieving the executive of the activities necessary to accomplish organizational objectives. The benefits of effective delegation help both the executive and his or her associates.  Delegation helps the executive become more strategic by freeing him or her from the activities that are performed by associates.  Effective delegation helps the executive work “on the business” rather than “in the business.”  For the associate, delegation gives the opportunity to take on more responsibility and challenge.  It helps prepare them for advancement into higher-level positions within the organization.

So, why do executives struggle with delegation? 

Clearly, the need to control is one reason.  As I pointed out in my previous blog, letting go can be challenging.  However, I have found that most executives would like to delegate more work, but they lack an understanding of how to delegate.  Dumping activities and assigning tasks is not an effective way of delegating.  Unless the process promotes personal development, responsibility, and authority, delegation loses its motivational appeal to associates.  In her book on delegation, If You Want It Done Right, You Don’t Have to Do It Yourself, Donna Genett describes the delegation process to include preparation, clarity of expected assignment, explicit timeframe, level of authority, and frequent follow-up and feedback.  This process allows executives to delegate work and develop their associates while staying fully informed about the delegated assignment.

From a coaching perspective, effective delegation will help an executive manage workflow, simplify complexity, and develop associates toward their full potential.  Gaps in these areas offer a coach the opportunity to address the process of delegation.

One role of a coach is to help identify gaps that exist because of failure to delegate.  These gaps may include the failure to develop associates for greater roles within the organization, micromanaging associates, lack of strategic thinking, and a lack of progress in creating a positive organizational culture.  Helping the coachee understand and implement an effective process of delegation will close many of these gaps. 

What if associates fail to step up and perform delegated work?  If an executive creates an effective delegation process and still does not realize results, this may be a sign that he or she needs to upgrade the talent and skills of the associate.  Failure to perform is not an acceptable outcome of delegation, and a coach needs to create clarity about the coachee’s options when delegation fails.  In my next blog, I will present a case that addresses how to deal with this problem.

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