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The Art of Delegation

Jesse Sostrin says, “One of the most difficult transitions for leaders to make is the shift from doing to leading. As a new manager you can get away with holding on to work. Peers and bosses may even admire your willingness to keep ‘rolling up your sleeves’ to execute tactical assignments. But as your responsibilities become more complex, the difference between an effective leader and a super-sized individual contributor with a leader’s title is painfully evident... While it may seem difficult, elevating your impact requires you to embrace an unavoidable leadership paradox: You need to be more essential and less involved. When you justify your hold on work, you’re confusing being involved with being essential. But the two are not the same—just as being busy and being productive are not necessarily equal. Your involvement is a mix of the opportunities, mandates, and choices you make regarding the work you do. How ancillary or essential you are to the success of that portfolio depends on how decisively and wisely you activate those around you.”

At first sight, delegation can feel like more hassle than it’s worth; however, effective delegation can hugely expand the amount of work you can deliver and the difference you can make. I love to watch Olympic track relays. The runners make reaching for a baton at 20 mph while staying in their lanes look incredibly easy. But in reality, what they’re doing is extremely difficult. And it’s a lot like delegating effectively. Both require trust, communication, and coordination. Still, if you learn how to delegate—and you do it well—everyone on your team wins. It empowers your team, builds trust, makes progress happen, and assists with professional growth and development.

Often we don’t delegate for a variety of reasons. We think we can do it better. We think it is lazy, just passing off work. We are nervous about letting go of something important. We think it will take longer than if we did it ourselves. But there are many benefits to getting someone else up to speed. It is so worth it.

If you are going to delegate effectively, you must know what to delegate, to whom to delegate, and how to delegate.

What do you delegate? According to career and business strategist Jenny Blake, these are the tasks which should be delegated:

  • Tiny: Tiny tasks are little things that only take a small amount of time to complete but add up over time. These might be things an assistant could do, such as scheduling meetings, booking flights for business trips, or deleting spam/marketing emails from your inbox.

  • Tedious: Tedious tasks are mindless tasks, such as copying and pasting lead information from your marketing automation tool to your CRM. Tedious tasks require little skill and can be easily delegated.

  • Time-consuming: Time-consuming tasks are opportunities to break work into smaller chunks and delegate portions of the work to others. If you perform a task regularly that takes a lot of time, look for opportunities to hand off segments of that task to others.

  • Teachable: Do you have tasks on your plate that you could easily teach someone else to complete? If a task is entirely teachable—if it does not require expertise that only you can provide—it’s a worthwhile candidate for delegation.

  • Terrible at: Maybe you have no design skills, so it takes you six times as long to create graphics for your blog posts as it would a professional designer. It’s better to delegate that task to someone who’s more equipped to do the work quickly and well.

  • Time-sensitive: Maybe it would be better if you handled all of the tasks belonging to a time-sensitive project, but if you won’t have time to complete it doing it all on your own, it’s time to find ways to delegate parts of that task to other members of your team.

These are so helpful to me. I would also suggest “time over.” I have had to delegate tasks that I really love doing but are no longer an effective part of my job.

To whom should you delegate? The factors to consider include…

  • The experience, knowledge, and skills of the individual as they apply to the delegated task. What knowledge, skills, and attitude does the person already have? Do you have time and resources to provide any training needed?

  • The individual's preferred work style. How independent is the person? What does he or she want from his or her job? What are his or her long-term goals and interests, and how do these align with the work proposed?

  • The current workload of this person. Does the person have time to take on more work? Will delegating this task require reshuffling of other responsibilities and workloads?

How do you delegate effectively? There is so much that could be said about this. Much training is available, and you will learn more as you go along. But here are some starter thoughts:

  • Take time to choose the right person for the job. Don’t just randomly throw it at someone because it needs done. Part of being a good leader is understanding your employees’ strengths, weaknesses, and preferences. If you need to delegate a task that is going to require a lot of collaboration to complete, don’t delegate it to someone who very strongly prefers working alone. Delegate it to someone who prefers collaborating. Letting people choose the tasks they are delegated can build trust with and inspire engagement.

  • Explain the reason for delegation. If you’re delegating a task to someone, it really helps when you provide context for why you’re giving them that responsibility. Help them see why you want them to do it and that it is an opportunity to grow and gain new skills.

  • Provide the right instructions. Stephen Covey says to delegate results, not methods. For example, say, “Here’s what we are doing. Here’s what we’re after.” Tell the goals or milestones you hope to hit and let them tackle the problem in their own way. Don’t look for perfection or micromanage; someone else might complete a task differently than you would. As long as you get the result you’re looking for, that’s okay.

  • Provide resources and training. Make sure the person tasked with a job or project has the tools and resources they need to be successful. For example, if you ask someone to use a specific tool they’ve never used before to complete a task, make sure there’s a plan for them to become familiar with the tool first. Make certain all the materials they need are readily available and the resources needed to accomplish the tasks are secured.

  • Delegate both responsibility and authority. When you are given a job without the authority to make decisions, the work stalls, you are frustrated, and it requires more work from everyone. Foster an environment and culture where people feel they’re able to make decisions, ask questions, and take the necessary steps to complete the work.

  • Check the work and provide feedback. It’s very hard to have a manager who delegates something and then blames the employee when something goes wrong. Check the work you delegated to your employees when it’s complete, make sure they did it correctly, and give them any feedback needed to improve when handling the task going forward.

Delegation builds everyone and builds the company. Doing it well needs to become part of your skill set.

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