Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Leadership as a hands-on process and leadership through delegation – and knowing when they should each be used

Posted in strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on July 9, 2013

I have written about leadership on an ongoing if intermittent basis in this blog, and continue that pattern here where I discuss one of the core learning curve issues that new leaders face: delegation of work responsibilities and authority.

There are a lot of reasons why someone might be advanced into a first management position, or into more senior management and leadership positions. But ultimately the defining criterion, stark nepotism aside, comes as perception that they can get positive things done.

• When an employee is working hands-on and directly on fulfilling tasks and goals requirements and without any supervisory responsibilities,
• This means what they themselves do, and with their own hands and from their own initiative as well as from the direction of others.
• As that employee advances up a table of organization and starts assuming management and supervisory responsibility, they still do a great deal themselves, but they are increasingly expected to turn over tasks and hands-on responsibility for them to the people who report to them. They are themselves performance judged for the coordinated, effective performance of their teams that they lead and for their teams’ overall performance in meeting and even exceeding the goals that they have been given.
• And the higher on the table of organization that they advance, the more complex and nuanced the tasks that they would and should delegate – including tasks that others who report to them would parse out among members of their own teams for hands-on performance fulfillment.

Leaders are people who take responsibility and who seek to get things done and as quickly and smoothly and effectively as possible. This need and even fundamental requirement to relinquish hands-on control and responsibility, and even to people much less experienced in doing that work, is not always easy and particularly for a manager who takes their work very seriously and who sees quality and speed of performance as essential for the business. The requirement of delegation to subordinates, and particularly to ones who are themselves still going through learning curves in being able to handle these responsibilities can set up internal conflicts for the managers and senior managers involved. People who can do and who do well, and who like to do, want to do and to do themselves.

So becoming an effective manager and team leader is in large part about knowing how and when to delegate. Sometimes this means making an easy call, one way or the other. But there are always gray areas in this where a simple black or white, delegate or do-it-yourself choice is not clear. And this brings me back to the issues and challenges of learning curves.

Sometimes a manager who seeks to effectively lead others, has to take the chance and even on critically important tasks, in turning over those hands-on responsibilities to others and even when they are still learning. That is the only way that the members of their teams can grow professionally, and for both their skills and their experience. That is essential for their gaining the confidence in themselves to become the best that they can be professionally.

So this posting deals with short-term and even immediately here-and-now decisions, but it is all about long term value and the cultivation of long term strengths and capabilities.

As a manager, and as a leader of others, you have to be able and willing to step back to this longer timeframe perspective and delegate, and even when your initial impulse might be to simply do it yourself. If you always do that you undercut the people who could be doing this for you and you limit their opportunity for learning and for professionally growth as a result. And bottom line, you undercut them and your team’s capacity for growth to its real potential. Ultimately you limit what you can achieve personally too. And I note that independently of the fact that:

• If you are continually doing what could be lower level hands-on work, you are not going to effectively be there for your own higher level managerial responsibilities,
• And you will gain a deserved reputation for micromanaging for this too.

So I end this posting at its beginning and by reiterating that learning how and where and when to delegate and how to effectively do so constitutes one of the core learning curve challenges that new leaders face. Ultimately you lead well by delegating well.

You can find this posting at Business Strategy and Operations – 2, and can also find related postings at the first Business Strategy and Operations directory page and at Social Networking and Business and HR and Personnel.

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