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Learning to Delegate: A Mini Case Study

Learning to DelegateConsider this situation:

This is the fourth project that Anna has delegated to Amanda and she is starting to feel she would be better off doing it herself! While Amanda is willing to take on additional assignments, she just doesn’t seem to be willing to be responsible for the assignment. She won’t do anything without first checking in with Anna. Today alone she walked into Anna’s office four times to ask these questions:

  • “How should I do this?”
  • “I can’t reach Jack on the phone and I need to ask him a question. What should I do?”
  • “Where can I find the information I need to complete this task?”
  • “I contacted Terry but she is on vacation for the next week. What do you want me to do?”

The last time Amanda came in to the office, Anna lost it. She told her to forget what she is doing and she’ll give it to someone else who can handle the assignment. After Amanda left, Anna realized she didn’t handle that well.

Consider also that:

Delegating is not an easy task. As a manager, you can’t delegate the same way to one person who reports to you as you would to another. Some employees will need more guidance to get work done; others may have the skills and experience to move forward with any task delegated to them. In order to delegate effectively it is essential to understand your direct reports – their skills, experiences, goals, capabilities. Without understanding this, it is not possible to effectively delegate assignments.

Back to Anna:

Anna is understandably frustrated; however, the situation really is also partly Anna’s fault. Amanda, of course, does bear some responsibility. In this situation, we want to explore why Amanda feels as if she cannot make any decision without first checking with Anna. Did Anna potentially make it clear early on that she is the ultimate decision-maker? Has Amanda failed before and she is worried about failing again? Is Anna simply delegating assignments that Amanda may not be ready to undertake?

Anna should sit down with Amanda to discuss the situation further and figure out how best to proceed, in collaboration with Amanda. She might apologize to Amanda for how she handled the last encounter, explaining she was frustrated and did not handle it well. She might ask Amanda to help her understand why she feels like she cannot take steps to complete an assignment, making many of the decisions on how to proceed on her own. Through an honest conversation with Amanda, Anna will learn how best to delegate to Amanda. Through a conversation with Amanda, Anna will learn more about her skills and experiences and where her comfort level is; which will enable Anna to more effectively manage assignments delegated.

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