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How to Delegate

When you don't really WANT to...

Life is pretty busy right now. I’m having to fit things into my normal working week that I don’t normally have to do: Taking my son to interviews in London; supporting my mother whilst my father is in hospital….and then of course there’s all the bank holidays.


So I decided to work on a Saturday.


This meant delegating all the stuff I normally do on a Saturday to my husband.


I was OK with most of it, but the family ‘big shop’ was not easy to hand over. I’ve been doing it so long, that even though I have a list, I know how to work around the list. I know what’s implied. I know what is preferred. I know what we already have.


I also know that what gets bought will impact the next 7 days: Will have enough food to provide lunches? Will I have everything I need to put together meals that actually work? Or will I have to make time to do a mini-shop, cutting into my busy week?


You see, I write down the planned meals at the top of the page, and what we need underneath. So if I write down “Dinner veg X 4” I look to see what dinners are planned. My husband doesn’t, so may come home with a swede, which really won’t go well with the salmon!





This situation and starting a new project with a new client made me think about how we so often define ourselves by what we do. Especially at work. That’s why I think so many line managers find it hard to step up from team player to team leader. They define themselves as a sales person, a mechanic, a customer service adviser. What do they do if not that?


Our whole identity is tied up in the tasks we do. So perhaps the hardest part of delegating isn’t actually delegating.


Why is it Difficult to Delegate?

I can make a list and send my husband to the shops with it. That’s the easy bit. The hard part is reconciling it in my mind. It’s about handing over that task properly (explaining my list) rather than just expecting him to know what I mean. It’s about helping him to understand why I’ve put things on the list. It’s trusting him. It’s accepting that whilst he won’t get everything I would, he will (hopefully) get it mostly right, AND introduce something new too! It’s about reminding myself that whilst he is doing that, I am doing something important that only I can do.


When helping managers to take a step up, it occurs to me that we need to do an awful lot more on mindset. On persuading them that it’s the right things to do. That it doesn’t diminish the skills they have or the value they add. Until we do that, they will never truly let go, and until they let go, they can’t grow and develop into their new role.


To do that we have to pay attention to SCARF (David Rock). In their current role, the SCARF is firmly in place and it provides comfort:


  • Status – Tied up with identity. I am a great salesperson/mechanic/nurse – If I don’t spend my days demonstrating what I’m good at, how do people know I’m good at it?

  • Certainty – Gives Confidence. There’s nothing about this role that I can’t handle. When I step away from this, I don’t know what I’ll face.

  • Autonomy – Gives Control. I know this job inside out. I am the best person to decide what needs doing, when and how. I can make decisions about my own work. If I haven’t got knowledge and experience, how can I decide what to do?

  • Relatedness – Provides social acceptance. I am recognised and respected for my skills. I work with the same people, on the same level so we understand and support each other. People come to me for advice and guidance of their own accord.

  • Fairness – Keeps things simple. I know what’s expected of me. There are rules and processes to follow, and as long as I do that, my tasks will be completed to the right standard and everyone is happy.


Stepping away from the front line challenges every aspect of this, so no wonder it takes time for them to adapt. That’s why it’s so important to have a manager induction programme in place, even (perhaps ESPECIALLY for) those who are being promoted from within.





How to make it Easier to Delegate


We need to replace their old SCARF with a new one that will help them to transition to their new role? Here are some ideas about how we can do that…


  • Status – Celebrate that their skills and expertise has got them noticed. Help them to see that taking a step up they can develop more people to be like them. We want more like you!

  • Certainty – Be clear about what their role does and does not involve. Tell them what they need to stop doing as well as start doing. So many first line managers end up working harder and longer because they add their management tasks to their list without taking anything off.

  • Autonomy – Agree with them which decisions are theirs to make and which need to be escalated. Help them to understand the processes and procedures that in place to help them to manage people. When boundaries aren’t clear managers will either avoid making decisions (which stores up problems for the future) or make decisions that they shouldn’t (which can cause problems now).

  • Relatedness – Give them support! Not just from the centre, but from other first line leaders. Set up buddying schemes, or just create a safe space (which could be online) for them to talk openly and encourage peer learning to help them to build relationships outside of their immediate team.

  • Fairness – Manage expectations every step of the way. Give them feedback and be consistent in your approach.


When they’ve made the mental switch, they can then delegate with confidence. And we have a ready-written training course to help them to do that.


(And also one on Monkey Management to help them stop taking on tasks that they shouldn’t).

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