Impulse 14. Delegating for advanced leaders

Delegating is easy, isn’t it?

In many cases, yes: Your employee is motivated, knows that new tasks arise regularly and end up on his or her desk. And since the employee is also competent, he carries out the freshly delegated task promptly and in very good quality.

But what if the employee, for whatever reason, has little or no desire to take on the new task?

Unfortunately, this happens regularly. But as always, there are ways to solve this problem.


The most frequent management mistakes in delegating

Let’s start by looking at the most common mistakes that even experienced executives occasionally make.


1. The first mistake is praise for the employee for how well he does his job just before you want to delegate something to him. Praise frequently and regularly, but not directly, before you assign a task to the employee. There is simply too great a danger that the effect of praise will fizzle out or even turn into the opposite: “My stupid boss only praises me if he wants something from me”.

2. Second error: The manager uses the word “if”. “Can the employee imagine to take on this task?” This opens the door to a refusal of the task. So, don’t use that kind of phrase. Better say: “Here is a new task for you. It’s about… What do you think about it?” Of course, the employee should say what he thinks about the task and his additional responsibility. But not under the premise “whether he can imagine to take it on”.

In a training some managers ask me: “Why should the employee say anything about the task at all? “Tell him to complete the task promptly and courteously.” Yes, the latter I wish you all. However, if the employee has concerns, I recommend that you actively address these concerns and not keep quiet about them. Do you want the employee to approach the task motivated or unmotivated? If you want him to approach them with motivation, then you need to talk about existing concerns in order to clarify and resolve those concerns. 

3. The third mistake is therefore to eloquently talk over the concerns or objections. Ofen strong and also less strong managers do this very well. However, this does not help to resolve the concerns. Rather, the objections remain and you as a manager receive a reluctant 20-90%”yes” from the employee at the end of the conversation.

4. Typical mistake number four. Accepting a reluctant “Yes”. Many executives then think “Ah, finally the employee said “Yes”, then I can quickly devote myself to my other todos again. You can do that, of course, but then you have an employee who does the job reluctantly.


Delegating in 6 steps

How does delegating work in 6 concrete steps?


Step 1:

In the first sentence, specify the task and the goal with concrete figures, data, facts – about duration and intensity and responsibility of the employee – with few words.

Then ask: “How do you see it?” You can find out from the way in which the employee reacts and how much headwind you have to expect.


Step 2: 

Reaching agreement on the goal and the employee’s ACCEPTANCE to take over the tasks on his own responsibility.

When you feel the first resistance, ask first what is the purpose of the task from the employee’s point of view. Do not name the purpose yourself. This can go into one ear of the employee and directly out of the other, because the employee is thinking about his or her concerns. Please DO NOT ask if the employee has understood the meaning. Then, in the worst case, he only says “yes”, but keeps his concerns in mind.


When you have reached agreement on purpose and the importance, only then do you address the employee’s concerns. If things are going well for you, these concerns have already become fewer when the employee himself has stated the purpose and importance of the result.

In order for the employee to ACCEPT the task, his concerns must now be addressed. Now please read carefully: The good thing is that concerns are arguments of agreement that are upside down. If you have a good answer for the concern, then the employee can only accept and want to get started. If there are several concerns, then all those concerns need to be discussed. If you find a good answer to every concern, the employee will work enthusiastically.


But wait: There are always unpopular tasks. But they are also part of a job. If the employee has not yet understood this fact, inform your employee and check how he or she sees it. When you meet resistance here, you ask the crucial question – like Gretchen in Goethe’s ‘Faust’ once did, “How do you feel about religion? The big question on the job is, “Do you want this job?” Please ask this question with the respect and appreciation it deserves. Tell your employee that you want him in this position! If this is not the case, please do not think about delegating to this employee, but how to part with him. And this then includes the processing of certain tasks – such as this one, for example.


Step 3:

If the employee has accepted responsibility for the task, then thank – very briefly – the employee for being prepared for it.


Step 4: 

Now let the employee develop solutions for the task himself, because the employee himself will implement the task. So, it makes sense for the employee to develop the solution himself, doesn’t it? If the solution comes from the boss, then the employee is just an uncreative, non-responsible puppet who only implements the boss’s ideas. Is that what you want?

Right, we’re back to the subject of letting go. Here again, my tip is “Hunt like a lion”. And if you know my philosophy about leading people, then you know that the lion does not hunt himself, but leaves this task to the faster and thus more capable lionesses.


The lion does not do an essential activity like feeding the pack itself. So, hunt like a lion and let your employees work out the solutions.

This also applies here: Really relinquish the responsibility. Often the employees know the challenge of the task in order to find good solutions. Often the employees know them even better than you as the boss. So, bite your tongue if you realize that you want to set the solution. 


Step 5:

In the fifth step you define exactly: “Who? What? By when?” If an answer to one of these questions is missing or unclear, delegation does not work. So, get a summary at the end of the conversation. Who usually does the summary at the end – if the summary is made?

Yeah, that’s right, mostly the boss does it himself.


However, if you are interested in checking the employee’s understanding and checking the desire and energy for implementation, then you can only do this by letting your team member make the summary.


If the understanding fits and the desire for implementation also, then everything is good. However, if your employee’s tone of voice suggests that he is not fully motivated, clarify any concerns you have not yet answered positively. These concerns then still need a good answer, so that the co-worker has the burning desire to complete the task.

And yes, there are tasks that your employees will never love – not even after the Gretchen question.


Oh, if you have an ambitious employee with whom you never have any misunderstandings, please do not ask for a summary in the future. This only makes sense if there were resistance or misunderstandings between you and this employee in the past.


And finally: It is always up to you to clarify your concerns finally or to hold only a short delegation meeting if you are short of time. But now you know much better what can go wrong if you delegate in a monologue and do without all valuable conversation details.


Step 6:

By the way, is the next appointment already defined in the delegation meeting? I call it shoulder look, where you inform yourself about the intermediate status. The unannounced question “Well, how’s it going?” almost always seems suspicious. “Why does the boss ask me that again? Does he think I can’t handle it?” But if you agree on a weekly shoulder look, for example, where your employee can simply show briefly and crisply that she is running and can get support if necessary, then the employee will understand and approve. That is, he will understand if you give a good reason for this weekly update date. E.g. that your boss asks spontaneously every now and then for such an important project. Or because your employee has never worked on such a large project and can even use these shoulder looks well.


Peel the onion without crying

By the way, I call this question to the employees’ concerns peeling the onion. You ask, layer by layer, what exactly the employee means with his objections. When you get to the core of the onion, to the core of your team member’s thinking, then the solution is also only a small step away.


I wish you much success in delegating – even with resistance and a motivated team for additional tasks!


Yours Markus Jotzo

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