ME? Delegate? Neither crazy nor asleep!

But of course not, how can you think of delegating a task if you have not yet built trust in the person to whom you are going to delegate…?

The beginning of that story

A few days ago I was giving a leadership course and a participant told me that it is difficult for him to delegate, because he feels as if he were asking for a favor or that he was not clear about how and when to delegate some tasks. And as if that were not enough, his boss pushes him to delegate more tasks to take on others.

And since this leader’s job is complex, he thinks that he has to delegate at all costs. At that very moment, all my alarms went off and I reviewed situational leadership.

What is situational leadership about?

During the 80’s, Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard established a model that is very easy to understand, simple to apply and extremely useful to remember.

Teams, from the moment they are formed until they work autonomously, go through different stages. And it is good that this is the case, since the people who make it up change their dynamics and behaviors over time.

Paul and Ken (as if they were already my friends), say that there are 4 stages for a team, and it is the leader who must follow these steps:

Enthusiastic beginner: We are new, we have a lot of drive (a new broom sweeps well, the saying goes), but little knowledge about the task. Our leader must guide us closely.

Disillusioned apprentice: the performance has ups and downs, which causes the participants of a team to lose morale. Our leader should give us a pat on the back.

Capable but cautious performer: after several moments of learning and motivation, we know what to do but we are not so clear about the approach. Our leader gives us a space to make proposals for action or improvement.

Independent achiever: we already know what and how to do it, we are clear about the approach and the alternatives, we have autonomy in action and decision. Our leader is waiting for news and our requests for help, if necessary.

How long does each phase take and when can we really delegate?

Although there is no rule of three, something that tells us «now yes, now no», there are experiences. In my case in particular, since we incorporate a new person into the task group, at least 3 to 6 months pass for him to know the ways, procedures, ideas and tasks that said individual has to perform.

Only after 6 months are we in a position to validate if what we are telling, training and following up on is really understood. That is, the second stage occurs at this moment. The big difference is that we go from giving directions to asking «Did you understand what I said?»

Now with all this, we are almost through the year of work. And once we spend a reasonable amount of time (it may be less or more, depending on the tasks, the organization and each individual), only now can we feel comfortable as leaders in asking for opinions, suggestions, ideas and proposals to improve the current situation.

Am I already delegating?

No, in the third stage I am still leading directly. What does happen is that we no longer explain everything, nor validate the understanding of what needs to be done and how, but rather we are open to hearing opinions from those who have really worked consistently on such tasks. Only now do experts appear on very specific topics, who I can gladly listen to to understand what I can improve. But I’m not delegating yet, not at all!

Now, the last step

Let’s think about letting another six months pass in which our leadership has already brought us good ideas, some that can be implemented and others that cannot. But the responsibility for improvements is shared between our role and that of our leader. And in fact, it is such a person who – being well-versed in what needs to be done, what works and what doesn’t – can only now take the reins of such work.

This is – just – the moment in which someone can delegate a task.

The fourth moment

At this point, it’s been approximately a year to a year and a half since we worked with someone. And we have gone through the different phases of a job: from not knowing anything, or knowing very little, to asking a few things and then proposing alternatives and ideas.

And since many things also happened: someone went on vacation and had to be covered, this person got sick and a replacement was needed, we reached the end of the year and distributed – or not – bonuses and extras, we carried out a couple of job evaluations in formal form. Things happened.

And why not before?

Saving some distances, in order to delegate a task we need to trust who we are going to delegate such tasks to. Tasks are delegated, responsibility never. And this is why I first have to generate a good space of trust to then understand as a leader, if I can delegate this task or another to which particular person.

If you want a simple example, ask yourself: «Am I able to delegate this task to X?» and that translates in your head as «To X, can I give him the key to my car?» If we know how X is going to treat our car, our idea and project, then, yes. I delegate. If I have any doubt – within a reasonable doubt, then I can try delegating with close monitoring. If my answer is «I won’t give you the car at all,» then it’s clearly not the time to delegate.

Conclusion: what do I do?

First things first: Make a list of the people on your team and think about where everyone falls: Enthusiastic Beginner, Disillusioned Learner, Capable But Cautious Performer, or Independent Achiever.

Each person on your team can be in one of those places, and it can change given the project or the moment. But to do a first exercise, write down the four columns and under each column, who is where.

Once this is done, you will see that there are groups of people who are in one column or the other. The trick with situational leadership is that you, as a leader, have to have the waist to be able to guide each person according to their degree of maturity on this scale of situational leadership.

Therefore, the most beautiful thing – and therefore the easiest thing to learn and do – is to know where you (and I) are in these four columns with respect to our leader. Once we analyze ourselves and know where we are, we will be able to evaluate our team and determine different courses of action, according to the degree of maturity of each person and each group of people in each of these four alternatives.

And – as I repeat ad nauseam – it is not magic, it is practice. And leadership, like any other soft skill, is something that is learned through experience itself. It is read, but it is done. It is talked about, but it is done.

Practice, practice, practice.