Exploring why managers can be reluctant to delegate tasks and decision making

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There are many benefits associate with delegating tasks: It can help employees develop new skills, free up management time, and allows decisions to be made by those who are close to the ground and know the task best. However, managers are often reluctant to delegate. This article explores some of the key reasons why managers may avoid delegating work. Identifying why you feel reluctant to involve others (or micro-manage all decisions), is important if you want to increase your tolerance for delegation. Once you have identified the underlying issue that makes you reluctant to delegate or involve others in tasks, you are better placed to begin to work on increasing your tolerance. 

Reasons for reluctance in delegation

A desire to be in control of all decisions

One of the key reasons why managers may be reluctant to delegate tasks is because fundamentally they want to remain in control of all decisions that are made. There is something scary about allowing others to have key decisions – the possibility that they will choose something that you would have not agreed with.

Approach for reducing reluctance to delegation: Addressing this reluctance is not easy – it involves becoming comfortable with others having control. Itis however important to recognize that there are many decisions that a company makes that do not ultimately have a fundamental impact on the business – day-to-day decisions that can be adjusted or only have a small self-contained impact. Gradually increasing responsibilities of subordinates – trusting them with these decisions is one approach to overcome this reluctance to delegation. Over time, once you have delegated control over some of these smaller issues you will likely become more comfortable in involving others in increasingly large decisions. 

Belief that as a manager you should be in charge of all decisions

Another reason why managers can be reluctant to delegate tasks comes from a belief that as a manager you should be in control of all parts of decision making. That a lack of delegation is a reflection of good management practice. 

Approach for reducing reluctance to delegation: While there is clearly a role for management oversight and involvement in decision making, the notion that as a manager you need to be involved in everything is often misguided. It may work in a very small firm, but as the company grows, it is simply infeasible to be involved in everything – and an attempt to do so will greatly constrain the ability of the firm to expand. Rather than seeing it as good practice to be involved in everything, a better approach is to systematically consider which decisions are you likely to have useful input, and which are lower employees better placed to make the decisions. 

Fear that employees don't have the experience to make decisions

Another fear regarding delegation is that your employees simply don’t have the skills necessary to succeed in certain areas. This concern is often a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you never involve employees in parts of your business, then they never build up the experience, and in turn, never become able to undertake certain tasks. 

Approach for reducing reluctance to delegation: The key to breaking this concern is to recognize the paradox – it is the lack of involvement that results in this tendency. Gradually delegating more responsibilities is one approach to get over this – to trust small or less consequential areas, so that gradually employees are able to build the skills necessary to succeed. 

Concern that decisions will be inconsistent with the strategy

A final reluctance to delegation can result from a fear that employees would not be able to make decisions consistent with the overall strategy of the company. Making decisions that are in keeping with the strategy requires some degree of awareness of the strategy itself – something that you as a manager may have, but lower employees may not have the understanding of.

Approach for reducing reluctance to delegation: One way of addressing this concern involves actually communicating the strategy within the organization. Doing so can help build a shared understanding of the approach that the firm is taking to compete, and allow employees to gradually build the necessary understanding of the entire firm to allow them to make decisions that are consistent with the overall approach. While managers can be reluctant to share the overall approach, doing so is often necessary to achieve internal consistency of decisions within a  company.