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Delegation Dilemma: Can you really delegate to every type of player?

Leaders of all levels are faced with a daily decision: to delegate or not to delegate. The temptation to complete work without spending the additional time to communicate, coach, and supervise others is real. Delegation remains the key to unlocking two critical aspects of both leadership and teamwork — more time for you to lead strategically and new and exciting career paths for your employees.

Early in my career, a manager offered me strong advice: Delegation is not dumping. Do not dust off your to-do list onto someone else simply to free yourself of certain types of work. Good delegation is done strategically, and its benefits are realized in the long term. Once you know the distinction between what you own and what you lead others to own, you need a delegation plan that is as unique by person as it is by project.

Can you really delegate to everyone on your team? The majority of teams are comprised of three types of players: A, B and C. Yes, you can delegate to every type of player, but you will need a plan, consistent communication, and some creativity.

A Players

A Players are your star performers. They are ambitious, good at their jobs, and eager to do more. They deliver with accuracy and self-motivation; you only need to ask for something once. (Sometimes you don’t need to ask at all.)

It may seem obvious that A Players are excellent choices for delegation, but many leaders ignore two risks for these employees: boredom and burnout. A Players are so reliable they can become your “go-to” people for everything and also feel ignored because they don’t need constant supervision.

Weekly sprint meetings with your A Players will help you gauge their workload and energy. An important delegation tip for A Players: Take some risks and give them something exciting. Relinquish control of a highly visible project and delegate work they will find really challenging. A Players want to see their upward trajectory and want to believe everything they do is in service of getting to the next milestone. When an A Player is delivering work with ease, partner with them to identify the next person it can be delegated to.

B Players

B Players are steady, consistent performers who have often been with the organization for longer periods of time. B Players do not present the same flight risk as A and C Players. Have a question about company history? Ask a B Player.

It’s important for leaders to understand what makes a B Player a B Player. In my experience, the root motivators vary. For example, some employees contribute at this level and are motivated to be A Players. They may need additional investment: coaching, mentoring, practice opportunities, etc. While a highly motivated B Player may require more investment, a leader is likely to get higher return on that invested time.

Other B Players can be described in a word: contentment. They deliver consistently with strong quality and are highly reliable. They are motivated, however, by the balance in life that is achieved by their B Player status. I have personally made the mistake of assuming that all B Players want to be stretched, challenged, and moved to the next tier. One such player perceived the additional projects as punitive; I managed to demotivate this person with certain stretch challenges. Most businesses rely on these steady players. Be sure to delegate to match their motivation.

C Players

C Players underperform relative to your expectations for someone in their position. Some organizations take an iron fist approach to these players, by placing strict performance plans in place and moving them out of the organization if they are not met. Many leaders refuse to delegate anything to a C Player; they lack trust in their ability to deliver. This may be true, but you have work to do before making that decision.

C Players typically present in one of two ways: apathetic or angry (sometimes both). The first step is to understand what is underneath that behavior. In my experience with leaders, many of them find the underlying issues have no connection to work. Personal, family, and health issues can shape a variety of work-based behaviors. Others find the issues are, in fact, easily solved. Communication breakdown and misinformation can be at the root of many problems.

I once partnered with an incredible leader, who was energetic, smart, and on the rise at a global telecommunications company. He shared with me that he spent his early years with the company as a C Player. Luckily, someone recognized his potential, believing he was bored. That person promoted him (to the shock of many others at the firm). The rest is history.

Carefully divide your C Players between those who really do need intensive performance planning, those who may need to be managed out, and those who have promise. Ask the latter group: What do you love about this job? What can others learn from you? Focus on the specific expertise of knowledge they can share and supervise them closely. Choose work that can afford deadline slips and mistakes, if necessary, to give your C Player a sense of ownership.

Every leader must master the art of delegation and can do so across every type of player on the team.


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Karen Maxwell Powell  is the General Manager at Insight Experience, a Boston-based firm delivering contextually rich business simulations and learning experiences to accelerate and integrate leadership, business acumen and strategy execution.