Delegation can be a leader’s best friend. When you delegate, you grow because you give yourself the time and opportunity to focus on higher-value activities that can have a greater impact for the firm. The person you delegate to also grows as they gain experience and expertise to take on new responsibilities. Yet, despite these obvious benefits, many leaders appear to view delegation with suspicion. When they try to delegate, it seems they just can’t help themselves: they end up swooping in and snatching back the delegated task.
3 Reasons for “Swoop and Snatch” Delegation
If you have been guilty of “swoop and snatch” delegation, it is worthwhile to take a moment for self-assessment and ask why you find it hard (or impossible) to let go of certain tasks. In all likelihood, one of the following three reasons lies behind your desire to maintain control:
1. “Nobody can do this task better than me.”
Perhaps you struggle with delegation because you believe you are the only person who can do certain tasks correctly. And you may be absolutely correct! But that does not mean that delegation is off the table. In fact, it may be the exact reason you need to delegate a task. If that sounds counterintuitive, remember that one of your top responsibilities as a leader is to develop new leaders. You want each person on your team to rise to their highest potential. You are inhibiting that growth if you do not allow your people the opportunity to learn.
Yes, learning does involve mistakes. But those mistakes are rarely on the order of “our stock will plummet and our doors will close if someone screws this up.” Good delegation includes recognizing where there are risks and providing good training and boundaries to minimize the impact if something doesn’t go perfectly. And remember, once the person you are delegating to gets past the learning stage, he or she will be able to do the task as well as you do it. Isn’t that more than worth it?
2. “I’m afraid somebody might do this task better than me.”
Maybe you are thinking right about now, “Actually, the idea of empowering my team is kind of scary. If someone else takes on tasks that are mine and does them just as well – or better – than me, I might be viewed as less valuable by my own boss. I might even be let go. I can’t take the risk.”
Take the risk. In decades of business and leadership consulting, we have never seen that happen. What happens instead is that when a leader delegates effectively, their boss is thrilled – because now that leader is freed up for more important work. Your value goes up, not down, with good delegation.
3. “I’ve done this task for so long that I’m just used to doing it.”
Doing certain tasks might be second nature to you. You can’t conceive of NOT doing them. So, when you try to delegate them, you inexorably drift back toward them. It’s not intentional; it’s almost instinctual.
Get Your Team Involved
To move beyond “swoop and snatch” delegation, consider getting your team involved. Call a meeting and have an open and honest dialogue about what has been happening and why. Be sure to let your team voice their frustration, if that is what they have been feeling. You may need to re-build trust that was broken when you wrested back responsibilities from your people.
Then, set some ground rules for delegation. As always, you want to be clear in what you delegate, who owns it, what the deadlines are, and the like. But the real crux of the matter is that you and your team have to agree on the criteria that would warrant coming back to you for additional input or decision making. In other words, you have to agree on the boundaries of authority – yours and theirs. You can also set expectations for updates, since if you are regularly informed about progress you will be less likely to give in to the desire to seize control.
Then comes the hardest part: back off and let your team do their job. Unless they come to you or you see clear evidence that the criteria for your further involvement have been met, stay in your lane.
One final word of advice: tell your team that pushback is okay. Strongly encourage it. Because chances are that at some point you won’t be able to resist an attempt to “swoop and snatch.” Habits are deeply ingrained and hard to break. In that moment, you and your team members need to be able to smile, laugh, and acknowledge what happened. Then, open your metaphorical hand, let them do their job, and get back to work.