Delegating as a Leader: Why Providing Autonomy is the Place to Start

How are you delegating as a leader? Are you a hoarder of tasks – always doing things yourself because, “you might as well get the job done right the first time?” 

Or do you offload meaningless tasks to you employees, happy in the thought that you’re delegating well…?

In this article, we will look at why delegating is important and how to get started if you’re relatively new to it.

Management Productivity Killer – Decision Fatigue

The concept of making too many decisions during the day and suffering from burn out, is a real thing.

In fact numerous studies support that as managers, the more decisions we make, the more tired we will become over the course of a day.

In a study observing the number of parole decisions made by judges during the day, the researchers found that a staggering 70% of paroles are made in the morning.

In the afternoon, only 10% of paroles are made. The analysis highlighted something that no one was expecting.

That is, decisions were harder to make as judges got tired.

There are additional studies to support this, aswell. 

In a study from the Journal of Financial Economics, they confirm that the more analysis that a financial expert makes, the less accurate they become during the day. The analysts then start to provide more general and less detailed reports to compensate for the fatigue.

Researchers from Sweden conducted a survey on Orthopedic Surgeons and whether decision fatigue influences their decisions to agree to surgery for the patient. They found that patients who met a surgeon towards the end of their working day, were 33% less likely to be scheduled for an operation, due to decision fatigue.

So, if you’re not delegating as a leader, you may well be taking on too much and suffering from fatigue yourself.

The Symptoms of Decision Fatigue For The Average Manager

The amount of energy we have is similar to a battery’s life. We only have limited amounts of energy. And during the day, with every decision, we use up some of that energy.

If we spend too much time making many decisions and taking on too many tasks, we quite literally get tired faster. And like a our surgeons and judges who lose accuracy when tired, our judgement and ability to make good decisions reduces considerably.

Here are three symptoms that most of us experience when we go through decision fatigue:

Paralysis by Analysis

If you’re far too stressed or tired, the chances are you probably won’t even make a decision. It’s a common reaction to feeling overloaded and where the term procrastination comes from. Through overload of information, we often leave the decision for later. This has a compounding effect.

Sooner or later, you’ll have a mountain of decisions to make! A great article to explore this further, is from the team at Doist.

Overwhelmed and Agitated

The more you become stressed and overworked, the more humans tend to become agitated and upset over seemingly trivial things.

It’s easier to see it once you calm down, but in the heat of the moment, It’s not always the case.

Have you ever been tired and snapped at someone over what others have thought as being benign? Tiredness impares our judgement.

Instant Gratification Seeker

Alternatively, you may start to make quick decisions just to get the monkeys off your back. The problem is, you’re more than likely flipping a coin to see if you’re right or not.

Most of the time, people choosing to make knee jerk decisions, just to get them done, and which need more than a fleeting thought, tend to make more bad decisions in the long run.

And while gut decisions are often good based on the small slice theory, making rash decisions because you want them gone is suicidal when it comes to making good decisions over time.

So, What  Do Employees Want?

In one of their surveys, Gallup identified that only 30% of all employees are actively engaged at work.

They also cited that low morale costs businesses anywhere between $450 billion-$550 billion each year. highlight that in their studies, companies that encourage colleagues to support one another, experienced a significant increase in customer satisfaction.

Furthermore, in a UK study by David McLeod and Nita Clarke, they identified that companies with low engagement scores had operating income of 32.7% lower than companies with more engaged employees.

Similarly companies with a higher engaged workforce, experience 19.2% growth in operating income over a 12 month period.

What Employees Want: The Verdict

It’s clear to see that staff typically work better when they are engaged. Employee engagement and happiness are linked to business performance.

One of the factors that help increase engagement in employees is the need to feel less micromanaged and more autonomy in their roles.

In the Journal of applied psychology, research was conducted on 817 employees, across 115 teams. They found that the more empowerment and autonomy people experienced, the lower the staff turnover rate was.

Carmeli, Schauebroeck and Tishler studied 82 top management team’s performances and found that the more empowerment their CEOs gave to them, the higher business performance resulted from the management team.

And in the UK, in a University of Birmingham study, after analysing two years of data and 20,000 workers’ responses, they found that the higher the autonomy levels in businesses, the higher the satisfaction in the workplace.

If that’s not enough, in an study, they revealed 79% of those that experienced high levels of autonomy, conformed they were engaged.

It seems that the surveys and statistics support the fact that employees are more satisfied when they are given greater autonomy in their roles.

In other words they want less micromanaging and more automation through good delegation.

Bringing it All Together: Delegating as a Leader Through Autonomy

There are two things that are evident from the above studies:

  1. If you’re not delegating as a leader, chances are you’re taking on too much. This often results in decision fatigue. The reality is, in this state, you’re probably blocking the team’s progress by trying to do it all and not working in the most optimum way;
  2. Employees want to be heard. They want to be valued. And they want to be given empowerment to take the lead in their work. If you’re not delegating, and actively seeking opportunities for them to have their say, then they’re probably not as engaged as they could be.

First, start by ensuring you have a good foundation for providing autonomy. Then you can build on this to create coaching and mentoring in the workplace.

Here’s how to do it.

Delegating as a Leader: 4 Phases of Autonomy

Daniel Pink in his book, “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us,” states that we all have varying degrees for the need towards self directed work. As a result he identifies four ways to delegate autonomy effectively as a leader.

Autonomy Over Task

If the team can choose what tasks they are good at and what they want to do more of, then naturally they will feel more empowered.

This doesn’t mean you have to rip up the rulebook and let them do whatever they want. But it does mean that you can work together to craft new ways of working amongst the team.

Here are some ideas:

  • Get your team to list down and choose what work they are good at and what work they will perform the best doing;
  • Help them to create the roles to suit this degree of work;
  • One of the ways to do this is to agree between 10 to 20% of their time on tasks that they want to do. This could include an improvement project to work on, helping colleagues on something specific, or conducting more tasks around those that they want to do more of.

The key is to give them some autonomy and step back, allowing them to develop in the role and make it more attuned to them, personally.

Autonomy Over Time

Another way to provide autonomy and delegate responsibility, is to allow each individual to decide how they work their time.

You could create the following ideas:

  • Provide flexible hours – give them autonomy on how they make up their hours or some proportion during the day or week. An example of this could be to Install core hours and then ask your employees to fill the remaining hours left to suit them.

For instance, you may have a policy of five or six core hours in a day where each employee has to be present during those times. The remaining 2 to 3 hours can be made up early in the morning or later in the evening, to suit the employees desire.

  • Perhaps you could have work at home days, where your team can choose when they are off around a team rota;
  • Or even changing the work week to support friday afternoons off.

Encourage ideas to create autonomy over how they manage their time, and they’ll be more engaged.

Autonomy Over Team

In this area of autonomy, Pink identifies that delegating as a leader can be done by allowing the team to decide the recruitment process.

Encourage them to take part in deciding who should join the team and who shouldn’t. This helps build synergy and also allows the team to feel trusted and empowered.

You could also allow the team to decide on what to focus on. For instance, what improvement ideas should they tackle? What training needs to be developed?

Try to focus on how the team can make more important decisions together and give them a voice to be listened to.

Interestingly, this type of autonomy is supported by lessons learned in the 1920s Hawthorne Studies.

It appears that in one sub study, team members seemed more productive, as a result of being given the authority to pick their team members, coming up with ideas, watching these being implemented by their supervisor and the researchers, and generally being listened to.

All of which Pink would define as autonomy over team.

Autonomy Over Technique

The last of ‘four factors. Autonomy over technique is about moving away from the telling approach as a manager, and towards the empowering and supporting style of leadership.

Delegating as a leader consists of allowing the team to identify what they need to do and how they need to do it. This means giving them decision making authority and the ability to get things done on their own accord.

A simple way to do this is by using the situation leadership model. Follow the model to give them the right amount of support and direction to suit their skill level.

That way, you can avoid giving too much direction in some cases and not enough in others.

To Conclude – Delegating as a Leader Involves All 4 Styles

In order to get maximum effect from autonomy, try to implement all four areas at the same time. The more you do, the more you’ll see engaged and happier teams.

This will take time, but by getting the balance right, you can experience a drastic increase in productivity as well as an increasing skill-set across the team.

Learn to delegate more for longer term success and build employee’s happiness.