The Delegation Heuristic

Trust Your Team

“It would be much faster if I did it myself.”

“I would let him do it, but I’ll have to correct it all later.”

“I don’t have time to tell someone else how to get it done.”

Half-truths we tell ourselves because we are afraid of delegation. If you are a manager, you have to delegate. If you are still doing all the work, you’re not a manager. Making that transition from individual contributor to workload-optimizer is one of the most essential steps in becoming a people manager. Why do we prolong it, then?

It’s often because we feel others are not equipped to face the challenge. But that’s a fallacy, because the only way they will be able to climb the mountain is if indeed, one day, they try to climb the mountain. You can shield only for so long before your troops must go to war. The sooner you can expose them to the challenges, the more time they will have to adapt and master - meaning more time for the manager to spend on higher impact work. Delegation, then, is a means to improved leverage.

I’ve started delegating more and more as I make the transition to people manager. At first I was subject to the very fallacies I wrote about. But then I started making small moves - a little work here and there. And I was pleasantly surprised. People were competent. They not only achieved the outcomes, but in several instances, much faster than I could have working alone.

As I’ve done this more and more, I’ve realized the delegation heuristic: Delegate until you can delegate no more. You will realize this ‘stopping point’ either explicitly, when they tell you they are unable to support, or implicitly, when their work quality and throughput significantly suffers beyond expectation. By engaging in incremental delegation, you’re essentially allowing your staff to grow each day, to climb a few more steps of the mountain. At some point they may have to stop, but most often, you’ll be surprised how well they reach the summit.

That’s what management is all about. Try it.

—Follow me on twitter @brianrumao