Mastering the Art of Delegation

I have a friend who had much difficulty moving up the corporate ladder. He was very intelligent, talented and a true team player. Problem was he had great difficulty letting go of assignments, tasks and processes that he felt were his—either because he had a major hand in shaping them or simply because he enjoyed doing them.

Clearly, his inability to let go—his trouble delegating—was a threat to his upward mobility. While he was being asked to assume responsibilities that were more strategic in nature, that invitation challenged him to step out of his comfort zone of being a process worker, someone at home with the known quantity of daily ritual. I am happy to report that he ultimately adjusted to his new situation and he is succeeding—both on a professional and personal level.

While he works within the rather broad confines of a large company (and serves in the middle echelons), I see much the same pattern taking place in smaller management companies around the nation and indeed in my travels around the world. I have met company owners and senior managers who refuse to let go of their perceived jobs despite the presence in their ranks of highly talented personnel.

This is the cause of two major corporate difficulties. First, and most obviously, it restricts the growth of the personnel in question, neither allowing them to stretch their own “intrapreneurial” muscles nor challenging them to step outside their own comfort zone. This opens the door to dissatisfaction, disengagement and potential separation from the firm.

But it also has a major impact on the growth of the company, not just because of the threat it poses to staff, but also because it diverts managerial attention away from its true function: to grow the business.

As Barbara Buell writes on the Insights page of the Stanford Graduate School of Business website, “In spite of the substantial economic returns to decentralization and delegation, many American managers resist such practices in favor of traditional command-and-control approaches to managing people.”

And, as I reported here a few columns ago, the inability to delegate also takes a dramatic toll on the succession process. Keep in mind that succession is exactly that, a process, one of grooming, nurturing and—here’s that phrase again—letting go.

It should be noted that in January, I officially step down as IREM president as Michael Lanning of Cushman & Wakefield takes the gavel. Associations such as IREM benefit from a smooth transition of power that is essentially built into their DNA. Mike and I have worked side by side for years now, and there are no surprises for the association as the switch takes place. It is a process of sharing and collaboration from which private organizations—especially smaller ones—can learn.

Now is the time to practice the art of giving up if you are indeed one of those who micromanages or who simply cannot focus on their rightful, strategic place.

Or as Buell concludes in her article: “Effective organizations put people in groups that manage themselves while leaders develop and nourish the corporate culture and promote an atmosphere that values learning, innovation and accomplishment. Instead of telling people what to do and breathing down their necks to make sure they do it, good managers train and support their people and give them the resources to make their own decisions.”

Chris Mellen, CPM, serves as 2016 president of the Institute of Real Estate Management. Mellen is also vice president of property management for the Boston-based Simon Companies, supervising the day-to-day operations of all properties in the firm’s portfolio. He has 30 years of experience in the business.

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