If you want to evaluate the nitty-gritty of your delegation style vis-à-vis the ideal, take this small quiz.

All big news from your department, on initiatives or projects, is routed through your email address to your superiors.

Your boss interacts with your department through you only, and rarely with your subordinates.

You tend to track important transactions to closure.

You are usually the first to arrive- and the last to leave - in the department.

You find it hard to take time off from work for your personal and social life.

If your answer is ‘Yes’ to most of the above, you need to delegate more.

Experts offer a great deal of advice on how to delegate but of all the approaches out there the ‘situational leadership’ model appears the most flexible.

Consider a situation—an executive at a bank is faced with an aggrieved customer. He comes to you—the manager—with the issue. When faced with such a situation, every leader follows his or her default mode. For some, it could be ask-question-and-give-advice, and for some it could be let-me-see-for-myself mode.

Both of these could be wrong.

A better way instead would be to apply the ‘situational leadership’ model.

In Leadership and The One Minute Manager, authors Ken Blanchard, Patricia Zigarmi, and Drea Zigarmi talk about their well-known ‘Situational Leadership’ model. Based on the competence (skill and knowledge) and commitment (confidence and motivation) of the employee, a manager can use one of four approaches:

Direct if the employee has ‘low competence’ and ‘high commitment’

Coach if the employee has ‘some competence’ and ‘low commitment’

Support if the employee has ‘moderate competence’ and ‘variable commitment’

Delegate if the employee has ‘high competence’ and ‘high commitment’

At first glance, this looks like a complex matrix. But a momentary reflection on the employee concerned and the task involved will help you to discern which approach to take.

In the situation of bank employee approaching a manager for help, the manager’s intervention, based on his or her appraisal of the executive and the issue, could be any of the following:

Directing: “Check with the XYZ team to see whether we can accede to the customer’s request. In the interim tell the customer…" Tell the employee what to do.

Coaching: “The issue as I understand it, is a valid customer grievance. What do you think we can do here?" Ask a series of questions to engage and help the executive to think through the solution.

Supporting: “What do you suggest? I agree with your analysis. Additionally we can do..." Ask for solution and give suggestions.

Delegating: “I trust you can handle this. Let me know if you need help." Make the employee own the task.

This approach allows for flexibility. For example, with the same employee, on task A, you can decide that ‘Directing’ is best suited, and on task B, ‘Delegating’ is more appropriate. In that sense you are less likely to abdicate your responsibility, a common pitfall when delegating. The varied approach helps the employee too, as over time one is stretched to a higher level.

Getting better at delegation is a pre-requisite if you want to take bigger responsibilities and move up the management ladder. Thankfully, management experts have studied it and laid down the path for us. It is just a matter of consciously integrating the ideas in our work.


How to approach delegation

Focus on outcomes

In First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently, the authors advise managers to focus on outcomes, instead of the steps .

A coaching opportunity

In The Coaching Habit, the author advises turning most encounters with team members into a coaching session. He suggests a set of seven questions, starting with “What’s on your mind?" and leading the team member to come up with their own solution.

Hidden competing need

In Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization, the authors ask if your inability to delegate is because you have a “hidden competing need".

Avoid reverse delegation

In The One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey, the authors caution against reverse delegation. In short, when a team member seeks help, recognise the task belongs to the employee. Ensure the next step on the task remains with the employee.

Anil Karamchandani is the author of 21 Office Situations & How to Deal with Them.