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The Trouble With Delegating

The Trouble With Delegating

Do you struggle with when and how to delegate decision-making to your team?

As a leader, there are times when you want your team to make the decision. There are many ways for the group to make their decision if their leaders would let them. Here’s a great article on a seven-step decision-making model from the University of Waterloo.

Before you delegate decision–making, as a leader you need to ask yourself if you are you really ok with the decision they come up with. Have you influenced their decision-making using the data you provide, the tone and body language used in delivering that message, and the way the info is provided (in person, over email, individually)? If you are not transparent with all the information, you are not ready for the group to make the decision.

I faced this challenge several times when leading expeditions. At times, I would present a few options to the group and want them to make the decision. In this case, it could be a decision on which route to take, what peak to climb, what class to have or what to eat. I would only do this for decisions I was willing to live with no matter what they decided. Several reasons I wanted the group to make the decision were to provide an opportunity for them to work as a team, give meaningful input, build confidence, increase there judgment and take ownership.

Decision Making

© Shawn Stratton

When presenting options, I would often find it difficult to be fully transparent and neutral because I would usually prefer one decision to another. As noted above, this would come out in the way I delivered the options. For an option I was excited about, I would talk about it in great detail in an upbeat positive tone and for the options that were just as valid but I may not have been as excited about, I would share fewer details and deliver the information with a neutral tone and body posture.

Then, I would finish up with “ok, whatever one you decide I am ok with it”. At times, this came across as manipulative, condescending, and fake and provided little educational opportunity. In this case, I would have been better off just making the decision for them and seek other more meaningful team building and leadership opportunities.

© Baltic Development Forum

© Baltic Development Forum

In my master’s thesis, I worked with the CEO of an engineering firm who struggled with delegating decision-making. For the decisions he was delegating, he put full trust in his team to make the right decision for the company. The challenge came when the team was not 100% certain in their decision-making so they went to the CEO to help make the decision for them. The source of the problem came when the CEO would now get involved in the decision-making and either make the decision or strongly weigh the decision-making process of the team.

This is precisely what he was trying to stop doing, i.e. he was his own enemy. By getting involved in decisions he was trying to delegate he was sending a message to his team that if you are struggling with a decision, I will be here to make it for you. The decisions he was delegating in the first place were ones he had confidence his team would make correctly and was comfortable living with whatever they decided. But every time he stepped in to assist with their decision-making, he showed a lack of confidence in their ability and highlighted his inability to release control of all decision-making.

Shawn Stratton

© Sarah Philipson

If the CEO refused to get involved in the delegated decisions, he would have displayed tremendous confidence in his team’s decision-making ability and ultimately free up more time and brain space for him to focus on his higher level CEO tasks.

“If you are not willing to live with the decision…. Don’t delegate! “

How do you manage delegating decisions? Let me know what works for you in the comments below.