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Knowing When to Delegate and When to Be Directive

Most leaders do not do a very good job at delegating for one, some or all of the following reasons:

  • They are impatient for answers and results.
  • They do not trust their subordinates to do a good job.
  • They are perfectionists and believe they can always produce work of higher quality.
  • The level of urgency is such that by the time they explain the job to another person, they believe they could have done it themselves.  

It is important to recognise that all of these behaviours are driven by fear, and are not supportive of the growth and development of your team members. They are all personal mastery failings.

You will need to apply the eight step personal mastery process if any one of these beliefs represents how you operate on a regular basis. You will not be a good manager or leader if you behave in any of these ways. The best time to correct these behaviours is when you are young and managing a small team.

You can improve your delegation skills by using a task allocation matrix shown in the following table. (Click table to enlarge)

Task Allocation Matrix 

In order to use this table you need to divide your team into four groups:

  • The novice—a new member of the team who is unfamiliar with the work—someone who is unconsciously incompetent (doesn’t know what they don’t know, and hasn’t yet learned the job).
  • The cautious learner—a person who has been in the team for some time and is reasonably familiar with the work—someone who is consciously incompetent (has a good idea of the limits of his or her knowledge, and is still learning the job).
  • The competent learner—a person who knows the work, but still has some areas that they are unfamiliar with—someone who is consciously competent (is a reasonably solid performer but still has some peripheral or specialised skills to learn).
  • The confident self-starter—a person who is experienced, knows the work and is a solid performer—someone who is unconsciously competent (they know exactly what to do in almost all situations). 

You will also need to be able to assess the level of complexity of the task you are delegating and its level of urgency.

Coaching is the default position for all tasks and team members. Being directive is only appropriate for tasks of high urgency and high complexity, and when and where there is a clear need for guidance based on the level of experience of the team member.

To minimize the amount of directive decision-making, and to make sure jobs get done on time, on budget, and with high quality workmanship or service, it will always be best to allocate the high urgency and high complexity tasks to your confident self-starters—the people with experience.


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TNLP References

Chapter 16: Internal Cohesion in Teams (Allocating Tasks)