We all want to delegate, in theory, but in practice there are all kinds of barriers and challenges. Some people don't want to be delegated to, others take on work but then do a lousy job, or don't do it at all. You want to hand over work, but you're afraid to because if it's not done well it'll reflect badly on you. You have staff or juniors but you've become too pally with them for you to ask them to do stuff. You've got too much to do but you're afraid of delegating because you like to be in control.
There is all kinds of advice available on delegating, but there is an often-overlooked aspect and that is personality. This week's tip explores how understanding different personality types and styles could help.
'If only I could delegate some of this stuff,' says Maria, looking disconsolately at her long list of 'to dos'. 'I'm never going to get all this done, not unless I spend every evening and every weekend for the next two months.' She looks strained and close to tears.
Although she's overloaded with work, she tells me she's reluctant to delegate because it takes time to spell out exactly what she wants doing and, even when she does, the work often isn't up to her standards. When she does delegate, she likes to keep a very close eye on progress and, which some of her staff openly object to. When she's unhappy with the work they do she takes it as evidence that she should have done it herself in the first place.
On top of all this she finds her boss, Tim, impossibly vague. She isn't quite sure how he's managed to get to the position he has, he never seems to be that busy, rather spending his time walking round chatting to people. On the other hand, everybody seems to like him and runs around him doing his work. It's infuriating. Quite often they are in a meeting and someone who has more or less refused to do a job for her just that morning will smile and nod as he tosses out his largely impractical ideas, saying that, yes of course, they'll 'get going on that straight away'.
Maria is a logical, practical, detail-loving person, and task-focussed. This has all served her well in the past, getting her to this senior managerial position in a government department, but since her recent promotion cracks have started to appear. The additional responsibilities mean that she simply can't do everything herself, and she doesn't have time to monitor other people as closely as she likes. She spends half her time worrying about her jobs, for which she has only the vaguest instructions from Tim, and the other half worrying about the ones she has reluctantly delegated. She is no longer coping.
So what is going on between these people? Well, while Tim wouldn't dream of giving detailed instructions to someone of Maria's seniority, because he would feel patronised if someone did that to him, Maria thinks he's a hopeless boss who doesn't want to develop her. While Tim never knows how he's going to do things until he actually starts, Maria can't imagine setting out on a task without a plan.
Relationships are important to Tim and he spends time building them. Maria views this activity as a waste of time, both his and hers. If he would only get on with the job, perhaps he wouldn't need to hand so much work down to her.
In her appraisals with him, Tim tells her what a great job she's doing, whereas she knows she isn't. Why can't he just tell her straight?
Suffice to say, Tim and Maria are very different personalities. In Myers Briggs terms, Tim is an intuitive feeler - a big picture person with a focus on people and values. Maria is a sensing thinker - a practical, detail-oriented person, with a focus on logic and processes.
Intuitive types like ideas, patterns and meanings, the 'bottom line'. They value independence and like finding new ways of doing things. When given a piece of work they like to be told the headlines of what's required, not the detail and definitely not how to do it.
Best job: I have an exciting new project for you on setting up a new service. Go away and brainstorm some ideas.
Worst job: I want you to implement this detailed plan.
Sensing types value practicality and rely on experience to do things. They like jobs requiring attention to detail.
Best job: I want you to implement this detailed plan.
Worst job: I have an exciting new project for you on setting up a new service. Go away and brainstorm some ideas.
Feeling types want to be valued for who they are, relationships are important to them, and the impact of decisions on people.
Best job: I want you to look at what we can do to support disabled children in schools.
Worst job: I need you to lose a member of staff, please let me know who you choose.
Thinking types want to be valued for their competence; they like to use logic and objectivity to make decisions.
Best job: We have three options here, I want you to weigh up the pros and cons of each and give me a recommendation.
Worst job: I want you to find out why Deepak was so upset yesterday.
Once Maria understood the differences between herself , Tim and her staff, she started to smile.
'So you mean I don't always have to give detailed instructions for a job?' she said.
'And I can ask Tim for more details if I need them?'
Tips for adapting to different styles.
- Get to know the people you delegate to so that you can match jobs to their strengths and needs
- Ask them what level of detail and support they need and tell them what you need from them.
- With people who like detail, take a bit of time to talk through the practicalities with them.
- With people who like headlines, let them work out their own way of doing the job
- Accept that your way is not the only way - if it absolutely has to be a certain way, you may need to do the job yourself
- Remember that your staff are in training and they won't do jobs as well as you. Their style may be different from yours too, so when you see things you don't like, consider what they do better than you as well. Helping them when they've made mistakes is an investment in the future - yours and theirs.
- People who like detail need support with drawing out meanings and conclusions. People who like headlines need reminding about the importance of accuracy and detail.
- If relationships are important to you, understand that some people prefer to restrict conversation to the task in hand. And remember, not telling people if they're falling short is not always the kindest thing.
- If the task is more important to you than people, consider how making an effort with people might provide a better basis for you to work together.
What do you like and need when work is delegated to you? Do you prefer details or headlines, objective information or the personal touch? How much support do you like, frequent or occasional?
How do your preferences play into your usual style of delegating?
Think of times when delegation has gone well for you, and times when it hasn't. Did any of these preferences have a part to play?
What could you do more of, and what less of, to make your delegation more effective?
Lighten your workload this week!