One of my team members, Erin, was retelling a story of teaching her six-year-old daughter, Julie, to ride a bicycle. She realized coaching Julie was like effective delegation. My curiosity piqued, and I asked her to explain her thought process. Well, Erin first taught Julie how to ride a tricycle. After various falls and steering accidents, Julie soon understood the concept with Erin’s consistent guidance. Once she accomplished the tricycle, Erin moved Julie up to a bicycle with training wheels. Soon afterwards Julie was promoted to a two wheel bicycle without training wheels. The progression, training and mentorship Erin performed throughout Julie’s growth is what really matters in this story.
If Julie fell, Erin did not jump on the bicycle to take over the task at hand. She was there for support, providing reassurance in Julie’s capabilities, as well as applying a few Band-Aids along the way. Erin might describe the path coming up or what parameters / rules Julie needs to follow, but at no time did Erin take the task of riding the bicycle back from Julie. As Julie’s confidence and comfort level grew knowing Erin was there to teach and support her, she quickly mastered the art of riding a bicycle.
Think of approaching delegation with this same methodology. Time and time again, I speak with business leaders who are struggling with their time management. One consistent element often directs leaders to the realization that they are not delegating effectively to their team. There are many reasons (um, excuses) these leaders share as to why they don’t delegate more: “I can do it quicker myself,” “It will take forever for me to train my team member to perform this task,” “My team members don’t have the necessary skill set or aptitude for this action,” − the list could go on and on. The reality is that the only way to get your team to perform more of your tasks is if you take the time to train and support them throughout the delegation process.
We expect our team members to be able to ride a bicycle before we even get them on a tricycle. Also, if they fall, there is a tendency to jump in and take over the task instead of coaching them to a new level of learning and understanding. When delegating to employees, I think leaders would be more effective if they followed the same methodology as Erin did in teaching Julie how to ride her bicycle. Start slow, but with guidance and support. If they make a mistake, teach them how to approach it differently. Continue to graduate them to a new level as their competency and confidence grows. The investment up front will surely lead to better results for you and your team.
Remember your role when delegating. It is not to jump in if the individual doesn’t get it exactly right, but to coach and guide them as they continue to learn and lead the project or tasks. Start with baby steps and gradually build your team’s skills and capabilities. They may fall, but be there to pick them up and get them back on the right path instead of taking the task back. The reality is: delegating is as simple as riding a bicycle.