Caught in Reverse Delegation

You thought you were clear … but the message didn’t land >> you know because what you delegated didn’t happen and now you’re scrambling to get it done.

When leaders ‘take things back on’ it’s time to STOP and take notice. It’s ‘delegation in reverse’ and remember if your car is in reverse >> guess what << you’re not moving forward.

I see it happening a lot >> and it happens a lot to me. Delegation is not an innate skill in most leaders and needs to be developed. We tend to be better at seeing what needs to be done and making it happen. It is a bit harder, however, to see what needs to be done while and coordinating and empowering others to make it happen.

Check On Your Expectations

Could it be that your standard is a bit too high? As leaders we get things done … that’s the easy part. The harder part is… that’s getting things done through others. You have a specific way that’s worked for you … a process, a flow, a method that’s tried and true. It’s easy to expect others to do things YOUR way … but, they’re not wired the same.

That doesn’t mean you can’t have YOUR way >> but it means you need to get crystal clear on your non-negotiables and then give those you delegate to ‘room to roam’. Let them find their own process, flow or method that works for them within the perimeters of your non-negotiables. It might actually take them a few times before they find their tried and true method. Eventually they will find what works for them and they will take a higher degree of ownership in the project and its outcome.

Check On Your Communication

Are you communicating your expectations clearly? Most of us are confident that we are, until one team member gets frustrated when we give quick checklists on what to do and they want to understand why it’s important. Or, we launch into the big picture and another team member wishes we would just get to the point and let them get to accomplishing the list.
The best question a delegating leader can ask is, “How do you prefer that I delegate work to you?” Find out what they prefer and tweak your natural communication style to adapt to what they will hear and do best. Communication missteps will likely still occur along the way, but you have increased the likelihood that what you delegate will meet established expectations and not end up back on your plate.

Check On Their Resources

Sometimes things get handed back to leaders because the team member didn’t have the right resources. It’s easy to spot gaps in financial or technology resources. One element, however, that’s often missed is authority to make the necessary decisions. Do they know when to include you or when to just act? Don’t assume they know this. Make your stance on decision making authority explicit. When they come back to you because they are unsure >> resist the urge to help them out and take something back on that is well within their capability and their authority to do. We do this with the best intentions, but it inevitably leads to “reverse delegation”. Instead, ask clarifying questions and help them find their footing so they can move forward with confidence.

What are you taking back on that’s not yours? What will your approach be for handing it back to whom it belongs? Comment below and then grab a quick strategy call with me HERE and let’s strategize your delegation sweet spot.


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Annie Perdue Olson

Annie is founder of Leading Better Together, guiding leaders through the relationship and people challenges that sidetrack ministry. With 20+ years of experience in nonprofit management and pastoral ministry she equips people and teams to work better together. She holds a Master of Arts in Human Resources and Change Leadership from St. Thomas University and received her coaching certification from the Center for Coaching Excellence.

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