Delegating Successfully

E. Ann Hollier, Ph.D.Influence, Management


This blog is for a prospective client I talked to last week.

Most of us become team leaders in one of two ways: Either we are promoted to management because of our technical excellence, or our business start-up flourishes and we suddenly can’t do it all ourselves. Unfortunately, the switch from managing ourselves brilliantly to managing others requires completely different competencies which few of us naturally possess. For most leaders, these must be learned.

My prospective client falls in the second camp, a successful entrepreneur who now oversees a team of nearly two dozen people. They’re driving him crazy. He’s first in each morning, last out every evening, and he feels like every crisis lands on his desk. Delegating successfully is a particularly urgent issue for entrepreneurs like him, because the very can-do talents that made him so effective in startup can throttle his company’s growth (not to mention his home life and happiness) until he learns how to stop being, as he put it, “the monkey in the middle.”

His issues are so common for the leaders I work with that I’ve decided to share strategies for delegation with you, too. Mastering the principles of delegation and implementing them consistently changed my life as a team leader. It can change yours too.

First, define what isn’t working. It’s what you complain about in your head as you’re in the office alone buttoning up a report at 2:00 a.m.  Or when you’re handling a difficult client because the account manager lacks the necessary grace under fire.  Or when you’ve missed a school play, a date with your spouse, or your workout. Again.

Second, turn the problem around and create a standard. Define what you want instead of what you have. If you feel like your business is running you instead of the other way around define the standards and boundaries needed to ensure you’re spending your time on the things only you can do and feel passionate about, giving everything else away. Steve Jobs didn’t debug code. Lady Gaga doesn’t set up her own sound system. And only sign up for what one human being can reasonably accomplish. Otherwise, you’re not solving the problem, you ARE the problem.

What does the team need to do differently to manage workflow as a deadline approaches? What kind of coaching does your subordinate need to handle crises independently – and what kind of coaching do you need to get comfortable with the idea that their solutions won’t always be yours? What work hours do you want to keep? Are you willing to treat special appointments with your family and yourself as if they were just as important as those with key clients (which, in fact, they are)?

Third, go public. There is nothing like having others watching to help hold you to your commitments. Don’t wait until you’re triggered. You’ll have a hard time resisting blaming others and casting yourself as the victim of their bad behavior. Instead, teach others how you want to be treated in a positive, supportive, mentoring way. Get their input on what they need from you in order to get what you need from them. This creates buy-in.

Fourth, enforce! You are often the biggest problem in your business. Not you employees. Not your clients. You. It’s so easy to let one thing slip and find yourself back in old habits. Should this happen, be willing to get right back on the horse and try, try again. You can read about the physics of the perfect golf swing, three point basketball shot, or home run, but until you get out there and practice you’ll never be very good. Good management practices are no different. That’s why they’re called practices.

And realize this when shaping new behavior in others: Rats trained to press a lever for a reward will press more often when the reward is taken away, and they will continue to press for a much longer time if they were rewarded only once in a while than if they were rewarded every time. People are no different. When you stop doing your usual dance with the people around you, it is quite likely that their old behavior may actually intensify before it gets any better. If you waver even a little from your new standards you’ve just created the intermittent reinforcement that most sustains the behavior you wish they would change.

Fifth, cultivate self-awareness. Be on the lookout. Realize that stress points to a missing standard. When you feel exhausted, blindsided, or as one client put it, like you’re being bitten to death by ducks, know that it’s not a bad thing. It’s an opportunity to ask yourself what policies or standards are missing in your life.

You won’t create a life free of difficulty. That doesn’t exist. However, you CAN decide whether you want to approach difficulties as opportunities to suffer or as opportunities to learn and grow. Which would you prefer?

Sixth, seek a mentor. You can’t help being affected by attitudes and practices of the people around you. Harness this! Find people who can model effective delegation for you, and point out your blind spots. Get a coach. Join a mastermind group. Surround yourself with people who will hold you accountable to your intentions and goals.

If you would like my input on how to delegate successfully with your own team, contact me to find out how I can help.

As always, by all means share this e-zine with interested friends and colleagues. They can sign up here to have it delivered directly to their inbox each week.

E. Ann Hollier, Ph.D.

E. Ann Hollier, Ph.D.
Managing Partner
The Cogent Executive LLC

Ann Hollier provides strategic consulting and performance coaching to high achieving senior executives and management teams. She specializes in change management, strategic planning and implementation, leadership development, and building world-class collaborative teams. Learn more at

E. Ann Hollier, Ph.D.Delegating Successfully