Relax Your Grip

As director of U.S. external communications for Avon, Cassandra Hayes oversees all print and online communications targeted to 650,000 independent sales representatives, popularly known as Avon Ladies. Managing a staff of 10, she distributes news and information to help the sales representatives run their businesses. At the end of her day, she shuts off her computer and heads home worry free. This, our experts say, is the behavior of a manager who has mastered the fine art of delegation.

But Hayes’ skills weren’t developed overnight. After seven years and two promotions with the international company, which grossed $7.7 billion last year, Hayes has learned to manage her workload without getting overwhelmed. “The biggest mistake I made when I first started working for this company was giving my staff assignments and not following up,” she recalls. “I figured, I gave the assignment and therefore it will happen by the due date.”

In fact, one reason a number of managers struggle with delegating responsibility is because they feel as if they’re abdicating their authority. Some, like Hayes in the beginning, trust that assignments will be completed on time and become disappointed and frustrated when deadlines aren’t met. Another common challenge, one typically faced by high achievers promoted to supervisory positions, is relinquishing the role of worker bee and stepping into the managerial role.

Ken Blanchard, business consultant and co-author of Self-Leadership and The One Minute Manager (William Morrow; $19.95), maintains that managers should serve as coaches. They shouldn’t attempt to handle the ball; their job is to get others to perform at the highest possible level. And don’t think for a second that delegation is a one-time event. It’s a hands-on process in which managers must define and assign tasks, provide a time frame for completing them, and develop checkpoints to review their employee’s progress. “Even though your employee is the one running with the ball, delegation requires that you stay in the information loop — not to interfere but to intervene,” Blanchard explains. “Leadership isn’t something you do to people; it’s something you do with them. The reason you want information is in case you’re needed when, and if, people get in trouble.”

The following pointers will prove helpful in strengthening your delegation skills:

Understand the strengths and weaknesses of your team. Often, managers rely too heavily on certain individuals to complete tasks. “They burn out their go-to people while creating resentment [among other employees] because they allow the nonperformers to be idle,” says Donna Genett, an organizational development consultant and author of If You Want It Done Right, You Don’t Have to Do It Yourself! (Quill Driver Books; $19.95). “Their job as a manager is to bring everybody up to that level of performance.” If poor-performing workers don’t carry their weight, she adds, managers must reassign or terminate them.

Check in, don’t check up. Don’t just ask how your staff is doing on a given project. Find out their specific challenges and concerns. “When you ask questions about what help they need, you’re doing it because