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‘Delegate or die’

May 13,2014 - Last updated at May 13,2014

We all face information overload. How can the leaders of organisations cope with the mass of e-mails, phone calls, meetings, videoconferences and other demands on their time?

And how can we manage our time while also making sure that we deliver results?

The answer is through delegation: by pushing decision making and implementation down to people who have the time and skills to get things done; by not trying to do everything ourselves; and by trusting and empowering our staff.

Many managers refuse to delegate: knowledge is power and decision making implies authority and prestige.

Such attitudes are self-defeating.

Leaders who fail to delegate risk being swamped with demands, being unable to prioritise and taking bad decisions. Or, even worse, decisions will be stuck in the bottleneck of their inboxes, or they will burn out from overwork.

So how can we, as managers, delegate effectively?

For a start, we need to set a clear direction for the organisation.

What is the overall long-term strategy? What are we trying to achieve? And what do we anticipate will be the short-term steps we need to take and the resources we need to use to get there?

Once the direction is clear, there are myriad of recurring tasks that can be left to others: detailed planning, negotiating contracts, taking tactical decisions, monitoring the implementation of projects, attending meetings and dealing with customers. 

For example, in an embassy, once the ambassador has agreed the priorities and objectives for the year, he or she does not need to be consulted over every step and decision to achieve those goals.

Indeed, when it comes to technical decisions on projects or on visas, the ambassador should not be involved.

Successful delegation requires good communications.

Leaders must clearly explain the strategic direction, the overall policy and the goals to be achieved. They must also be clear about the standards to be met and the timetable for delivery.

And they must be available to answer questions and clarify any points about which the staff is unclear.

Of course, communication must be two way.

Listening is a vital part of management and we must give our staff the chance to be heard.

They know how things are done, can advise on the most suitable methods to get the best results and can flag up problems.

There should be no “mushroom management”, where employees are kept in the dark and have manure thrown at them from time to time.

Delegation also requires trust. The manager must trust the employees. And employees need to have confidence that their managers will back them if something goes wrong.

Building trust means empowering people.

To work, the staff need training, coaching and mentoring to make sure they have the skills and capabilities to get the delegated tasks done more effectively.

Delegation does not mean abandoning authority and accountability. The buck still stops with the boss.

Blaming minions if mistakes are made is not only bad management, it will also undermine good delegation in the future.

In any case, mistakes should be seen as an opportunity to learn lessons, make changes and avoid errors in the future.

On the other side of the coin, success should be celebrated. The manager should thank the staff that delivered it and reward them.

These are all themes I will hear more about at our Foreign Office Leadership Conference in London this week when all UK heads of mission will be discussing both policy and management issues.

On return to Amman, I will share the lessons I have learned with the whole embassy as a way to set a clear direction for the future and delegate tasks to achieve these goals.

“Delegate or die” is maybe an extreme title. But if we don’t delegate, the volume of work and the speed of demands will surely strangle us.

The writer is British ambassador to Jordan. He contributed this article to The Jordan Times.

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