Delegate to allow achievement
Are you, or is someone you know, guilty of believing “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself”? Although this may be true in a handful of cases, a core component of leadership is getting work done through others and enabling their success. You probably wouldn’t be as skilled as you are today if a previous supervisor or PI hadn’t trusted and delegated to you to grow your skillset. As a research leader, one of your responsibilities is to develop your team’s independence.
“It’s so important to take time to teach your group members. It pays off in the long run even though it’s stressful to realise that you will not go as fast as you were before.”
- Dr Florian Bouville, Senior Lecturer, Department of Materials
“What got you here won’t get you there”. As a new PI, perhaps with new teaching and administrative responsibilities, your workload will be expanding significantly. Getting everything done by yourself enabled you to be successful and to get to this point in your career but it will start to hinder you as you move into leadership. PIs who learn to delegate effectively (and learn how to be strategic and have clear priorities) will be most likely to cope with this rapid expansion of activity and overwhelm.
Although the number one reason why most managers under-delegate tasks is the fear of failure or damaged reputation due to putting important tasks in someone else’s hands, there are other reasons, too.
Many new PIs feel guilty about handing ‘their work’ over to junior colleagues – they worry about overloading their team and looking like they are trying to just ‘offload’ their own tasks. Some feel that proper delegation takes longer than simply doing the task themselves, and others even question their own ability to choose the right person for the task at hand.
Thinking through our six reasons to delegate may help you to reframe and overcome any objections.
It allows you to be more strategic
As you progress in your research career, you will need to shed some of the work you did as an early career researcher in order to make space for setting out the vision, developing your leadership skills, managing your team and engaging with stakeholders. You will need to think and act more strategically and if your time is being taken up with tasks that could be delegated you may fail to realise your goals and outcomes. (See the section on being strategic).
You simply don’t have enough time
Many research leaders are driven to succeed and often take on more projects than they can handle alone. A fear of failure (and a noisy inner critic) can drive you to avoid delegation for fear that someone else will not get the job done correctly. If you are juggling too many priorities at the same time, you are more likely to make mistakes and still end up with a poor result. Delegating tasks to the right individuals allows you to focus on different priorities and move forward on your strategy. (See the sections on time management and the inner critic.)
It is no longer a challenge/ development opportunity for you
Perhaps it’s a task that you’ve been doing for a long time and you can complete it without too much time or effort, but does it really require you to do it? Your time might be better spent on a more stretching task where you can learn something new.
It is a development opportunity and stimulates creativity
It can sometimes feel like a cliché, but research leaders who give their team members the freedom to tackle delegated tasks are giving them a development opportunity. Giving your team members the freedom to tackle tasks in their own way empowers them by giving them creative license. In research we want to find novel approaches and processes, so we must give people the freedom to be creative and find breakthroughs that could benefit the whole team and develop skills along the way.
It builds trust and engagement
Leaders who fail to delegate adequately often have team members who are afraid to take the initiative or who feel apprehensive about sharing new ideas. When your team members truly feel trusted, they are more motivated and may also be less nervous about speaking up, and less likely to make silly mistakes on tasks. (See the sections on building trust, using a coaching approach and motivation)
It creates a positive culture
Perhaps the best reason to delegate tasks to others relates to the research culture you hope to create. Delegation helps to boost team moral, improve efficiency and productivity, and promotes enthusiasm, innovation, and cooperation – all of which are vital to a thriving research culture. It is important for research leaders to remember that delegation is not a way to push off unwanted tasks to others. Delegate effectively and offer communication and support but allow for autonomy and creativity at the same time.
- Advice sheet: A process for delegation (pdf) – a series of steps to talk through when delegating a task to your team members.
The ‘skill will’ matrix
This will help you think about the different people in your team and how you may need to tailor your approach to delegation according to an individual’s willingness and level of skill.