Are you brave enough to empower your team?

iStock_000019584605XSmall - successMicro-management is the complete opposite of leadership. Micro-managers seek to control every detail of how tasks are done, how the team performs, and what the team’s outputs look like. It’s also an anathema to any true leader. A true leader delegates and empowers the team to deliver to their fullest potential.

Many project managers feel they need to be in control of the detail to ensure delivery to the required standard. They fear that delegation and empowerment will lead to different parts of the team going off in different directions and making the project less effective overall. So they temper their leadership inclinations to maintain that control or grip on direction.

I am a regular reader of Seth Godin’s blog. Seth is a marketer rather than a project manager but his posts are often relevant to many aspects of business. This particular post was titled “I’m sure it’s probably going to happen” and reflected the challenge that many managers, not just project managers, face when wanting to delegate or empower. The title starts with “I’m sure….” and demonstrates the certainty, power and authority of the manager. But this is immediately negated by “…it’s probably…” – uncertainty, resignation, leaving to chance. From leadership to abdication in five words!

Many project managers want to be leaders but don’t know how. They try a bit of delegation but don’t get the results they want, so they back track and take control again. Others delegate with one hand and take control with the other. For example, have you ever asked someone to write an e-mail, a note or a short report for you, but insisted you review it before it is sent? And when you review it you tweak the wording, amend the phraseology, make it more ‘you’.

You delegated the task with one hand, but took back control through changes with the other hand. How demotivating do you think that feels to the person you gave the task to. Either trust them to do it, or do it yourself. Don’t try and create the illusion of delegation. Your team will see through you.

Too afraid to delegate

I recall a conversation with a colleague on a train journey from London to Sheffield. We hadn’t worked together for a while and we were catching up on our respective roles. He was complaining about his workload and how many meetings he had to attend and the number of decisions he had to make. I said that he needed to learn how to delegate more to his team leaders. He said he would love to but he couldn’t trust them to make the right decisions. The decisions he would make if he did all the tasks

What he failed to realise is that leadership starts with building the team. It’s about having the right people around you, developing them and learning when to delegate, when to empower, when to let go. Now most project managers don’t have the luxury of building their teams from scratch, of hand picking the right person for every role. You often have to work with the team you inherit.  

Building the group of individuals you inherit into the high performing team you need starts with communication. It’s about listening to the team and learning their individual strengths and weaknesses. There may be some you have to weed out and others you will never feel confident in delegating to. But there will be some where you can develop the mutual trust and respect required for effective delegation. It’s then about establishing a shared vision of what the team will achieve and how it is going to go about achieving it. Once you have that shared language and vision, you have the basis for effective delegation.

In the example of my overloaded colleague, he did not have a strong enough shared vision and he resulting faith in his team to be comfortable in delegating to them. He had to retain control to ensure decisions followed his vision rather than a shared vision of the project.

Delegating to the uncertain

Not everyone will grasp or accept delegation immediately. Some will feel uncertain or inhibited. On one programme I was running, I booked a couple of days leave, confident that my deputy could handle the program in my absence. However, early in to the break I got a call about an issue that needed urgent resolution. Rather than take back the delegation and dictate the steps to resolve the issue which would have only taken a few minutes, I took considerably longer to explore the problem and prompt my deputy through the thinking process I knew he was capable of, but that he didn’t have the confidence to allow himself to follow. By the end of the conversation he had come up with the solution to the problem. He then said to me “so I didn’t really need to have called you after all”.  I said next time he wouldn’t feel the need to call me. I had empowered him to make his decision with my support, and to make the next one without it.

So we’ve discussed mirco-management, reluctance to delegate, delegation that is not really delegation after all, and an example of delegating to someone unsure of whether to accept delegation. Which situation do you think would lead to a more effective, high performing team? Answers on a postcard…… or you can just leave a comment below J

PS For more on creating your high performing team read my earlier blog: Building a team from a group of individuals

PPS If you want to read Seth’s blog article (it’s not long, but it’s all the more powerful for being short) click here.


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One comment on “Are you brave enough to empower your team?
  1. Jane Meadows says:

    Thanks for this. Great article

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