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A Guiding Hand, or Hands Off?

The fine line between supporting and suffocating your delegate.

When it comes to delegation, communication is key. If a leader doesn’t provide clear instructions and helpful guidance, delegates can find themselves flying blind. Too much guidance, however, and you run the risk of micromanaging.

So, where’s the line?

Unfortunately, there's no simple answer to that question. Each unique delegate will require their own equally unique blend of support and independence. Some delegates prefer a strictly hands-off approach. Others will seek assistance more frequently. Beyond what the delegate wants is also the question of what the delegate needs. For example, if a delegate is new to a given task, they may require more guidance than someone who is more experienced.

No matter what the situation, though, if a leader repeatedly interferes in their delegate’s work, neither party will benefit. Not only will you frustrate and slow down your delegate, you’ll also be defeating the whole purpose of delegation — namely, to free you up to focus on other things.

One way to help strike the right balance is to keep an “open door” policy. Rather than forcing guidance on your delegate, simply make it clear that your help is available should they need it. Some delegates are hesitant to ask for help, for fear of frustrating the delegator or appearing incompetent. If you assure your delegate that there’s no such thing as a silly question, they’ll be much more likely to seek help when they need it.

That’s not to say that guidance is only acceptable when solicited by the delegate. Checking in on your delegate can be a helpful way to increase efficiencies and encourage communication. Sometimes, a delegate may be unknowingly moving in the wrong direction with a project. By checking in occasionally, a leader increases their chances of catching and redirecting the misdirection before too much time has been invested.

Not only will this help your bottom line, but your delegate will appreciate it too. After all, no one likes to feel like they’ve wasted their time.

But there are good ways and bad ways of going about this. Frequently dropping in unannounced to loom over your delegate’s shoulder is almost always unwelcome and unproductive. Instead, create a calendar that sets milestones on which you and your delegate can touch base. These scheduled, structured meetings are more comfortable for your delegate, and more productive for both parties.

Every delegate is different. What works well for one might not necessarily be welcomed by another. Still, there are certain things a leader can do (and not do) to improve their chances of making the relationship work.

Offer guidance, foster independence, and above all else, trust in your delegates!


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