When done well, delegation provides a tremendous win-win for you and your team members. You can share responsibility and increase your productivity, and your team can learn new skills or take greater responsibility that may draw them closer to your team’s or organization’s mission.
Some of my most significant leadership development moments were on the back of a leader tapping me on the shoulder and delegating responsibilities to me that they thought I was ready for, even if I didn’t think so. It takes courage to delegate; it’s a risk. It also takes time, at least at the start, before you reap the longer-term benefits of it. Some leaders unfortunately resist the opportunity. Some leaders don’t want to lose control, they feel threatened, or they don’t think the job will be done the way they like it. It’s ego, fear, and power. Most leaders I get to work with (who are poor delegators) aren’t fuelled by those things; they don’t delegate because they don’t want to burden others. They are mindful of the added pressure that comes with added responsibility. The challenge with that thinking is that you assume people are not up for the challenge, are weak, or may break under pressure. Whilst the well-being of your team is always a good thing to have in the back, and front, of your mind, don’t underestimate your team’s desire for greater contribution, ownership, and responsibility. You were tapped on the shoulder once and responded to the call. You survived and hopefully thrived. The same could be true for your team. Here are five things to know about delegation.
1. Delegate, don’t abdicate
The responsibilities you delegate are still yours. You still have ultimate ownership, and you’re still accountable for them. Delegation means that you’re not alone. Whilst delegation will ultimately give you back time; it takes time to do it well. You need to monitor the person as they take on the new challenge, provide them with training, and offer them quality feedback. Whilst you delegate the responsibility and authority, you ultimately still hold the accountability. Whilst some of our best learning happens when thrown into the deep end, ensure you are ready with the life ring poolside.
2. Play to your team’s strength, energy, and development goals
Let’s face it, some things we want to delegate are in what Michael Hyatt classifies as our drudgery zone (low passion, low proficiency). But one person’s drudgery zone is another person’s desire zone. Ideally, the responsibilities you delegate should align with the strength of the delegate, with work that gives them energy and ultimately aligns with their development goals. Let’s say you have a direct report who wants to gain management experience. Perhaps there is an intern they could mentor or supervise, or maybe a small project they can own the execution of? The type of work you delegate could factor into their professional development plan.
3. Have a straightforward delegation process that you follow
There is a difference between work allocation (can you help me with a task?) and delegation (can you take responsibility and authority for a task?) Ensure you have a clear process or checklist that sets you and your team member up for success. Here is the process we teach leaders.
What task, project, or responsibility do I want to delegate?
Who is my preferred team member to delegate this to, and why is this a win for them and the team?
Have I clearly defined the responsibility?
Have I provided explicit instructions and confirmed with the delegate that we are aligned?
Have I set clear boundaries and defined success?
Have I allowed the delegate to do things differently, and if so, where?
Have I given the delegate the necessary resources to win?
Have I informed the appropriate people about the delegation? (Direct reports, peers, supervisor)
How will I monitor progress and provide support?
When will I give regular feedback?
How will I acknowledge the contribution of the team member and celebrate success?
“When you delegate work to a member of the team, your job is to clearly frame success and describe the objectives.”
4. Be patient and allow for mistakes
Delegation is an investment. You may not get an immediate return; it may take time and patience before you have made gains in your productivity. Create enough margin in your expectations to allow your team member to complete the responsibility in more time than it may take you. Make sure you have enough time for adequate training, questions, problem-solving, and opportunities to check progress and rework if necessary.
“The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint to keep from meddling while they do it.” Theodore Roosevelt
5. Acknowledge, celebrate, and, where possible, reward success
Effective delegation will make you look good but ensure you are giving praise where it is due and take the time to enjoy the win with your team member. Find time throughout the project or at the end of the task to stop and reflect on how your team member performed. Were there any highlights, lowlights, room for improvement, or points of greatness? Reflect on your own performance as a leader.
Finally, beware of the following common mistakes that leaders make in their delegation efforts:
Overestimating the capacity, competency, and authority of the team member.
Letting go of the accountability too early.
Not fully handing the responsibility of the job over to the person you’ve delegated it to.
Not providing the necessary resources to support the team member to win (e.g. time, information, finance, etc.).
Not communicating to the relevant people about the delegation.
Not following up on the progress of what’s been delegated.
Addressing poor performance or challenges too late.
Not being open-minded for things to be completed differently.
Good luck in your delegation efforts. It’s worth it in the long run - for your own productivity, the development of your team, and the achievement of your company’s mission. Remember, if you get the process right, you get the outcome right. Define yours and stick to it or feel free to use the process outlined above.