Are you a back seat driver?

I’m staying with my sister and brother in law for a few days which means that for once, I am not doing the driving. It wasn’t until I got in the car sitting behind Alec that I remembered what a terrible passenger I am. I found myself looking over his shoulder, focusing intently on the road and the traffic, the voice in my head saying things like:

“I hope he’s seen that traffic build up ahead……

Alec, show me a sign that you have seen the brake lights going on……..


Oh thank god………… you’re braking………..

You brake a lot later than I do………”

Alec is a very competent driver; he just drives differently from me. It doesn’t matter whether I am with the best driver in the world, I find it difficult to hand over control. I have a burning desire to see signs that re-assure me that the driver is aware of any hazards and is ready to take action.

It can be a similar experience for managers who need to take a step back and let staff perform at their best and deliver the desired results, their own way. If you don’t, you’ll only make yourself nervous and create anxiety in them too.

I had a number of choices today. I could have continued to be hyper-vigilant, anxious and sweaty palmed and not say anything. I could have done what I’ve done in the past and told my brother in law I was feeling anxious and asked him to slow down, leave more space between cars etc., or I could do what I did which was to sit back and take in the scenery or focus my energy on something more productive like dealing with my emails.

As a manager, once you have allocated work, agreed deadlines, standards, reporting guidelines and everything else you need to put in place, how do you stop yourself being a back seat driver and hovering over the shoulder of your staff?

Don’t tell me to delegate…It doesn’t work! – Part 2

At first, delegation can feel like its more trouble than it’s worth so in Part 1 we looked at the Why and the What of delegation. The bottom line is that by delegating effectively you can massively increase the amount of work you deliver.

Once you commit to delegation and are clear on what kinds of tasks are suitable to delegate, you need to select the right people, and delegate the right way.

How to choose the right person?

It’s useful to make a list of all the tasks that you are currently undertaking that it makes sense to delegate. Before putting a name alongside the task, you need to consider:

  • The level of experience, knowledge and skill the person has in relation to this specific task.
  • The existing knowledge, skills and experience they can bring from other areas of their work.
  • The need for any learning and development and whether that’s feasible.
  • The person’s goals, interests and attitude and whether these align with the task to be delegated
  • Whether they have the capacity to take this on with their current workload. Does other work need re-assigning?

Once you have identified the task and the right person to carry it out, you must ensure that you set it, and them, up for success. It means investing the time early on in order to reap the rewards in the longer term.

How to delegate effectively

  • Delegate meaningful projects that stretch people so they rise to the challenge. Giving away mundane jobs only de-motivates people.
  • Be clear about expectations, deadlines, standards and all the non negotiables. Ask the person to summarize back to you what they think the task and outcomes are. Don’t assume they’ve understood anything until they say it back to you.
  • Ensure people have enough skills and resources to complete the job: Don’t delegate too much too soon.
  • Agree how you want to work together (progress reports) Coach them on how they will go about undertaking the task. Discuss any concerns either of you have.
  • Be available to help, but resist interfering. When the person asks for help, again coach them to find their own solutions so that they always learn.
  • Ensure stakeholders know that you’ve delegated the task and the authority to carry it out, to this person, so they know who to go to.
  • Show faith and trust in the person: praise successes, and don’t undermine them.

What have been your experiences of effective and ineffective delegation?

Don’t tell me to delegate…It doesn’t work! – Part 1

When I think of which topics on management development programmes are most likely to be received with cynical looks from the learners, delegation quickly springs to mind.

Many managers don’t like to delegate, and resist it, for a number of reasons:

  • You lose direct control and that can be really stressful
  • You believe “if you want something doing well, do it yourself.” Or you feel that you have no-one that is up to the task
  • You don’t have the time to “waste” on explaining and coaching others. Much quicker to do it yourself
  • You’ve been on the receiving end of poor delegation and, remembering how that felt, you don’t want to “dump” on others

So why do we keep emphasising the need for it?

Because stakeholders and development specialists like me, know that effective delegation is essential in order to:

  • Free up your time so that you can focus on the areas of work where you add most value
  • Develop the skills of your team members, so they can become as good as you
  • Motivate them by demonstrating your trust in their ability to perform

If you’re convinced it is a good thing to delegate, you then need to decide what to delegate.

Here are my suggestions:

  1. The tasks that you did before you were promoted and are still doing. They helped you to develop, so give someone else the same opportunity. They are also easy for you to explain as you know them well.
  2. Areas in which others have more experience and expertise than you. Make the most of their strengths and skills without relinquishing responsibility. They still need to keep you informed on progress and decisions.
  3. There will always be mundane tasks that need doing. The key is to try and share these out fairly as you do with the more exciting, developmental tasks. One way to help your staff feel more motivated about taking on these tasks is to give them ownership for how they are carried out. Be clear on standards and deadlines etc. but flexible on how they chose to carry them out.

So that’s a brief run through the why and the what of delegation. Next week I’ll post my thoughts on how you should delegate and to whom.

Meanwhile, I’d love you to think about when you’ve been on the receiving end of poor delegation and share your strategies on how to be ineffective at delegating.