How to delegate: IT managers learn to let go

Hey, tech execs, you can't do it all, so why are you trying? Here's how to offload tasks with confidence, leaving you and your staff happier and more fulfilled.

CIO Asif Ahmad believes good managers aren't the ones who can do it all.

Rather, the most effective managers are the ones know how to pick which tasks to do themselves and which to hand off to staffers. "Otherwise, the work will never get done," says Ahmad, vice president and CIO at Duke University Health System.

delegate to your team

Delegating is easier said than done, however, particularly for new IT managers who may be used to being judged on their technical expertise and individual contributions. Everything changes once you get bumped up to management ranks. There, you're judged by how well you help your team perform.

Delegating is one way to develop your team's skills and ensure that work gets done on time, says former CIO Gail F. Farnsley, now a visiting professor at Purdue University's College of Technology. Another added benefit: delegating can help groom employees to move up in the ranks and fill in when needs arise.

But it's an acquired skill that doesn't come easily. Naomi Karten, principal of Karten Associates, a training and consulting firm in Randolph, Mass., says when she was first offered a management position in IT, she wasn't sure she wanted it because she realized that she would have to get satisfaction through the successes of others. "It takes some letting go," she admits.

Successful delegation is a thoughtful, multistep discipline that requires careful assessment, communication and support. With practice, it can become more intuitive -- if you take the time to learn it properly from the outset.

"People think it's very natural: You just tell people what to do. But that's not true. There's a process," says former IT executive Eric P. Bloom, president and founder of Manager Mechanics LLC, a management training firm in Ashland, Mass.

We asked seasoned IT managers, consultants and management coaches to share the processes they've used to successfully delegate and develop happy teams of tech workers. Here's what they had to say.

Determine your duties

To make the shift from technical expert to skillful manager, IT professionals need to start with a clear sense of what's expected of them, says Farnsley.

It's important to understand what duties, particularly the high-visibility ones, your boss expects you to handle yourself -- and which ones he doesn't expect you to handle. Look at the metrics your boss uses to judge your performance. If you're expected to develop strategy, for example, then diving in to help fix a program bug -- even one in code that you yourself wrote -- is no longer part of your job description, however painful it might be to let it go.

"You tend to get into all the urgent things, but they're not all important," Farnsley says.

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