On the one hand, we know that leaders are busy people, under pressure. On the other, we know that teams thrive on being stretched and challenged. So an obvious solution to help both parties is delegation and empowerment. However, one of the frequent frustrations we hear from leaders on our Leadership Development Programme(s) is that it’s easier said than done!

“Why is my team reluctant to take the initiative?”

“I’m trying to help them grow but they don’t want to!”

“This is a great opportunity for them to step up, but they hang back.”

This particularly comes to the fore when we talk about the importance of giving direction rather than instruction. In our iLEAD model of leadership (Listening, Energy, Authenticity, Direction), we impress upon leaders how setting direction is a vital skill, helping them to bring out the best in their teams while also freeing up their time as leaders and ensuring they don’t get bogged down in the detail of execution.

Understanding the problem

The first step to solving a problem is to understand why it happens. As a leader it can be infuriating to feel that your team isn’t pulling its weight, but our advice is not to get mad, but to get curious. Consider and ask why they have a reticence about delegation and empowerment. Step back from your frustration, listen and observe what might be happening.

There are a number of key questions to ask yourself:

Do they have all the support they need?

As a leader it’s easy to say, “just ask me if you need help”, but often your team may not believe you. They could be wondering, “is this a test? If I ask for help, will it be held against me?”. Don’t just offer support, schedule frequent check ins with them and then ask specific questions to tease out any problems. Create a dialogue, don’t just leave your door open; be explicit and expect them to step through it without encouragement.

Are your expectations clear?

The key to delegation and empowerment is to set out the vision and purpose for the task with absolute clarity. This is not about telling them what to do, it’s about laying out the objectives, ensuring they understand WHAT you want them to achieve and WHY. Let them know, clearly, that it is for them to decide HOW to accomplish the task. If your expectations are clear, the team will be able to overcome any obstacles as they know exactly where they’re heading. Without this clarity, it’s easy for them to become mired in confusion and doubt.

Are they afraid?

Fear is a powerful blocker to action. Could your team be frightened of failure? Are they afraid of looking weak or exposing their lack of experience? None of us want to look stupid, especially in front of our colleagues. The reality of accountability can be suffocating, and if they’ve had a previous bad experience, they’ll be much less likely to expose themselves to it again.

What style of delegation and empowerment is appropriate?

While we encourage all leaders to use direction, not all individuals in a team may be ready for the same degree of autonomy. Situational leadership theory reminds us that we need to adapt our style of leadership according to the level of competence within our team(s):

  • Instructing/directing the unconsciously incompetent
  • Supporting and advising the consciously incompetent
  • Coaching the consciously competent
  • Delegating the unconsciously competent

Beware bad habits

Inevitably it will take time to navigate your way through this particular leadership challenge but, whatever happens, it’s vitally important that you don’t succumb to just doing the task yourself instead. When the pressure is on and time is short, we know how tempting it is to wrest back control and forget about delegation, but it sends a very bad message and ultimately causes you an even bigger problem. Such behaviour erodes trust between a leader and their team, undermines confidence and encourages disengagement. What’s worse, each time you do this, you make your next attempt to delegate even less likely to succeed.

With the support of our Leadership Development Programme(s), leaders can discover a range of delegation and empowerment techniques that will ultimately bring out the best in their teams and enable all parties to thrive. For more information, or to share your leadership frustrations, please get in touch.

Let’s start something new!

Get in touch with us today and take the first steps to transforming your business.