Delegation is an essential skill for the effective leader-manager. Yet, in our busy, crisis-driven work lives, sometimes the most we can muster is the energy to toss a task or responsibility “over the cubicle wall” and hope that the recipient doesn’t drop the ball. Or, even fire it back.

You may recognise these three common mistakes if you have been on either end of a bad delegation exchange.

  1. Dumping. You may think you are doing an excellent job in delegating an assignment to one of your employees but wonder why the individual is not excited about the opportunity. The most likely reason: poor communication of the “WIIFM” – the “what’s in it for me.” Don’t assume the employee knows and understands your motivation. Eliminate the perception of dumping by, first, making sure there actually IS something of value there, such as greater responsibility, more autonomy, new skills, etc. Then take the time to explain the benefits in a way that will motivate.
  2. The Boomerang (a.k.a., reverse or upward delegation). Sometimes employees feel they don’t know how to do the task delegated to them. This could be a lack of knowledge or skill, but it might also be a question of confidence. In this situation, you may find them coming back and asking you what to do. Many managers fall into the boomerang trap by taking the assignment back. To correct this situation, apply Situational Leadership theory. Use your best coaching skills to find out what the employee lacks. Together, create a plan to develop the needed skills and confidence. Offer help and support, but don’t take back an assignment that you have delegated.
  3. Grabbing the glory. Some managers seem to overlook the importance of giving credit where credit is due. Don’t take personal credit for an employee’s hard work. Make sure that you give the appropriate recognition and then quietly appreciate yourself for being a great delegator.

Delegating is part of the tool kit of every effective leader , and it can be deliberately learned.

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