How Do I Delegate Better?


Lots of bosses are good at dumping, but not at delegating. They’re
great at off-loading the things they don’t like to do and dropping
assignments on their subordinates with little or no guidance.

bosses think that delegating is always the best way to assign work.
That’s not right either. When you’ve got a competent and willing
worker, delegation is the right way to go, but it’s not a good choice
for workers who aren’t as competent or committed.

Delegation is
only one among the four basic options you when you ask a subordinate to
do a piece of work. Here they are in order from most controlling to
least controlling.

Make the decisions about what is to be done and tell folks what to do. I call this style "Tell."

is good for people who may be new to the job and have lots of
enthusiasm, but not enough ability yet. It’s also the style you’ll use
with subordinates who’ve proved through several supervisory interviews
that they may have the competence, but they seriously lack willingness.
Those are discipline problems and tight control is appropriate.

can also discuss the work with your subordinate, but make the final
decision. This is good for less experienced people who either need
instruction or who need their confidence built up. I call this style
"Discuss and Tell."

Discuss and Tell is the style that most
managers seem to like best and revert to under pressure. It seems like
it let’s them be both "participative" and in control. But using just
Discuss and Tell is a bad idea, especially when you’re helping a
subordinate grown and develop.

At some point, your subordinate
will demonstrate that he or she understands the work that needs to be
done. That’s the time to use the style I call "Discuss and Allow." With
that style you discuss the work with your subordinate, and then let
them decide what to do.

Discuss and Allow is the hardest option
for most managers because it involves giving up control before they’re
really sure how competent a subordinate is, but it’s essential if your
subordinate is going to develop to a point where you can delegate to
him or her. Many managers want to jump right over this step and simply
assign work. Don’t do it.

Part of your job as a manager is
developing your people so they’re competent enough that you can
delegate almost any task to them. That won’t happen all at once. To
make sure they develop well, you’ve got to go through Discuss and Allow
before you move to the style I call "Allow" or "Delegation."

you delegate, you give your subordinate the assignment and ask what
they need from you. This is true delegation. It’s only appropriate for
people who have mastered the kind of work to be done and who willingly
pitch in.

As you work with people new to the job you’ll move
through the four styles as they grow and develop. Remember that you use
different styles with different people and with the same people on
different tasks. You make your decision on what style to use based on
your subordinate’s ability and willingness to handle the specific work
you need to assign.

In my programs, I use the acronym AW, GOSH to
help understand how much control to give a subordinate. Here’s what
those letters stand for.

A stands for ability. Do they have the
ability to do the job? If they don’t have the skills or resources, then
you have either a training or resource issue, not a supervision issue.

stands for willingness. Do they willingly do work that they’ve been
given? Sometimes we talk about this by saying that a person is

The comma (,) is to indicate that the two factors
above are the most important ones to consider. The following factors
may affect how you handle a specific situation, but they aren’t nearly
as important as your basic judgment about Ability and Willingness.

stands for growth. If I let go a bit more, will it help this person
grow and be an even better worker in the long term? I’ve found that
most managers are reluctant to relinquish control, so if you’re in
doubt, give your subordinate more freedom.

O stands for
organization. Are there any rules, regulations, or cultural norms that
might cause me to modify my original decision?

S stands for
situation. If the situation is either physically or psychologically
dangerous you may want to retain more control. If it allows for safety
and for the person to fail (but not horribly) then you can loosen up a

H stands for "How will this affect others?" Will this set a
precedent? Will it be perceived as fair? Does it set a good example?
Remember that the people who work for you watch everything you do.

of thinking just about whether you can delegate better, strive to give
people the maximum control possible over their work life while helping
them grow and assuring that your team is productive. The best way to do
this is to use all four styles based on the ability and willingness of
your subordinate to do the job.

Wally Bock works with a limited number of managers to help them improve their personal and business results ( and speaks to audiences in the US and elsewhere.  He also writes the Three Star Leadership blog ( Wally’s free Control Continuum Form will help you do a better job of delegating

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