Why do we naturally delegate based on personality?

Group of people - different personalities
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The ability to delegate effectively is the cornerstone of excellent leadership, so why does it so often become clouded by poor personal judgement. This article examines ways to avoid the personality trap and become a better delegator.

Whether we like it or not, we naturally delegate based on personality. Put another way, would we really trust someone to deliver a piece of work if they are disengaged and potentially out to sabotage the project? Of course, we wouldn’t.

Even if we’re absolutely forced into a corner, most managers would rather stay late and do it themselves than trust someone inherently untrustworthy to do the job instead. After all, if it takes longer to get someone else to do it, I might as well do it myself. 

These are common issues with delegation. What is strange is that we all know the benefits. Delegation allows managers to free up time and concentrate on the strategically important tasks, rather than being dragged down into delivery.

Delegation enhances the skills of the team, giving them exposure and allowing them to be stretched in their roles. It benefits the organisation by developing talent internally.

As ‘What Were They Thinking: Unconventional Wisdom about Management’ author Jeffrey Pfeffer says, “Your most important task as a leader is to teach people how to think and ask the right questions so that the world doesn’t go to hell if you take a day off.”

We know this but we also know that delegation is difficult to put into practice.

Poor delegation is a warning sign of poor management capability.

If we delegate only on personality, there are a few positives but plenty of negatives. From a positive perspective we’ll be giving opportunities to those that are aligned with the organisation and satisfied in their role.

Using Festo’s 3-Dimensions of Employee Engagement, this means our first choice for delegation will be to pass on tasks to our Champions and Ambassadors. That makes perfect sense. They’re committed. They’re engaged. We know they’ll do a good job.

Engagement model

The risk is that they’ll be overworked. If we rely on only a few key people, ignoring the rest of the team, we’ll be over-burdening those we trust the most.

Equally, we’ll also be isolating them from the team. It’s likely that negative reactions will start to be felt and the gap between engaged team members and those who are in the middle will widen with the possibility of splintering the team.

The majority of our workforce, estimated to be between 60-65%, is classified as Not Engaged.

These are our Prisoners, Challengers, Passengers and Sceptics. All of them are tricky to work with. All of them will take time to communicate and bring onside. Time that’s lacking and why a manager might need to delegate in the first instance.

In case you’re wondering, the Actively Disengaged Thieves and Saboteurs are the most difficult of team members. Managers will need a separate strategy to bring them on side or to move them out of the team and potentially out of the organisation.

Are you focusing on only a few employees when it comes to delegation?

What this does raise is that if a manager is only concentrating on working with a few employees, it is fairly obvious that they are lacking the skills and the knowledge to engage their team.

Issues around time management and delegation are often an initial indicator that there are bigger issues at play, and ones that HR teams need to be aware of.

If delegation is an issue with your managers, you can be sure that there will be a price to pay further down the line.

One time, in my early career, I remember being addressed by a senior leader in my organisation. He called all the managers together and said, “We have a simple problem in this company. The challenges and issues are arriving faster than management can solve.”

Ultimately, poor delegation can cause a breakdown in the team and overload key people and the manager themselves.

In his view there were three clear options.

We could increase the resource and employ more managers. Unfortunately, we didn’t have the financial capacity to be able to do this. We could train the existing resource to become more effective.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have the time to do this. The final option, and the only one in his opinion, was to change the current management resource to a more capable one and bring in people that could address the issue. That’s what can happen if you leave it too late.

If a manager is in charge of a disengaged team, and is failing to engage them so that they form a productive and highly capable team, then there are potentially three aspects at fault.

  1. The recruitment process failed and someone was brought into the company with a poor attitude from the very beginning. A thorough review of all recruitment and induction procedures should be undertaken.
     
  2. Something happened in the individual’s personal environment that severely impacted their behaviour and their attitude. A manager will need the skills to coach their team member, or have access to a resource that could help.
     
  3. The manager created them that way. This is always the most disputed point. Usually, the external environment will be blamed. Often the senior management will be put in the spotlight. Frequently the organisation’s strategy will be criticised. But there is always one common denominator, and that’s the manager.

A good manager can unite a team against an external enemy. They can put plans in place and delegate effectively so everyone is clear what needs to be achieved and why. A good manager will be able to hold poor leadership accountable. A good manager will challenge and should help shape the strategy of an organisation.

Poor delegation is a warning sign of poor management capability. It shows that your managers don’t have the skills or the knowledge to effectively delegate to their teams. It can point to a lack of understanding about the behaviour required to engage their team.

Ultimately, poor delegation can cause a breakdown in the team and overload key people and the manager themselves. Don’t ignore these warning signs.

Support your managers with the knowledge, skills and behaviour so that they, and their people, can thrive in your organisation.

About Gary Wyles

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