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5 October 2016
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The art of delegation

As a career coach, I have worked with many healthcare professionals who have stated that they find it difficult to delegate to colleagues and say ‘no’ to extra workload, particularly those who are new to management. However, this is a key skill that needs to be developed in any new manager’s career journey as the tasks and jobs they once did may now be more difficult to fulfil because other, more urgent management tasks take precedence. The concept of ‘letting go’ can be a challenge for many.

The Medical Leadership Competency Framework outlines five key areas for developing leadership skills – the first section, defined as ‘demonstrating personal qualities’, includes a subsection entitled ‘managing yourself’. The Healthcare Leadership Model establishes nine dimensions of leadership behaviour, one of which includes ‘developing capability’. It states that leaders should be able to “champion learning and capability development so that they and others gain the skills, knowledge and experience they need to meet the future needs of the service, develop their own potential and learn from both success and failure.”  

I talk to many of my clients about delegation skills and that they are not only important to be able to prioritise the tasks they should be carrying out but can be equally empowering for others. However, leaders should always bear in mind that accountability rests with them; it is their responsibility to ensure clarity in their communication, to monitor and oversee the effectiveness of those to whom they have delegated, and to always ensure that the individual is both qualified and capable of carrying out a particular duty so that patient care remains the top priority.

Case study

Michelle was a GP in a busy practice and felt overwhelmed and exhausted by her intense workload, to the point that it was making her feel unwell and requiring her to take a few weeks off work.

She came to see me after she had taken some time out and wanted to reflect and change the way she worked as she knew that she wouldn’t be able to continue in her post without burning out. We spoke about her style of work and Michelle came across as a ‘people-pleaser’, someone who couldn’t say ‘no’ to others. All through her career, she had felt that she had to take on every task that was assigned to her to prove her worth and keep up with her peers, whom she felt were always working on esteemed and exciting projects. We explored her thoughts, feelings and the practical outcomes of having to do everything herself as she felt she couldn’t trust others to complete the task as well as her. Alongside our discussions, I also asked Michelle to keep a workload diary on her return to work to record her activity every 30 minutes throughout the day, then at the end of week to record activities which she might consider appropriate for delegation.

Michelle claimed that she found this to be extremely useful in being able to be more objective about her workload and the capability of others and rather than feeling she had to do everything, she could start to identify how smaller tasks (particularly administrative) could be delegated to other team members. She had always greatly admired how one of the more senior GPs seemed to manage a better work/life balance than her and gained confidence in asking her how she manged to do so without feeling a failure. Whilst gaining further tips, it also led to discussions in the practice about how they could formalise some of the other tasks to be delegated to the practice nurse and receptionists.

As Michelle gained more control over her job functions we also worked on some assertiveness techniques as Michelle wanted to develop her leadership skills with an aim to go for a partnership role in the future. After a few months back at work, Michelle stated that she was feeling better both mentally and physically but was still working on the techniques we had discussed. Above all, she felt that coaching had made her much more self-aware and she found this insight into herself invaluable in being able to make positive changes to her working life.  

To learn more about the art of delegation come and see me at Leaders in Healthcare coaching session, where you can learn seven tools and tips on ‘How to delegate the right task to the right people’.

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