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The Art of Delegation

John Maxwell, leadership guru I have been privileged to view as a mentor and friend since I was quite young, has said this: “I get asked all the time about my busy schedule, and how I find time to accomplish all the things that I do. When I answer that I delegate as much as I can, people nod in recognition. But I can tell that they’re not really satisfied with my answer. That’s because every leader ‘knows’ about delegation. But most have had one of two experiences with it. They either hold onto as much as they can and only give away what they absolutely cannot do themselves, or they try to dump everything on unprepared and unsuspecting followers. The result? Burnout … or a train wreck.”

I can identify with all of that. I had to learn to delegate, emphasis on “learn.” I don’t believe delegating comes naturally. It sure doesn’t for me—and it certainly involves trust.

Successful leaders get where they are because of their sacrifice and their ability to run things, make decisions, and follow through. The problem is that a company can only grow so big if everything is passing through one person. Eventually there is a backlog, everything slows down, and opportunities are lost.

The amount of success I have personally experienced is directly related to the extent I have learned to delegate. I learned this important principle: “If you have someone on your staff who can do this task 80% as well as you can, delegate it.” Leaders often believe that no one can do things as well as they can. In some instances that could be true, but I have found out that some people can do things even better than I can, and many can do it at least 80% as well. I currently have many capable people doing things very well, as well and much better than I did, and it has made everything grow better and go better.

Focus on the things that only you can do, and delegate the rest. Perfection is never the key to success. As long as your goals are met, don’t waste time and energy worrying about little things that could be tweaked. Often the last 20% takes the longest, and you will waste time, energy, and resources making minimal difference instead of working on the next valuable step.

If you are looking for those people to whom you can delegate significant work, look for someone who is very capable and willing to learn. Invest time in them, teaching them to think like you think. When you know you are on the same page and can trust them, you will be able to give them very important things to do. The more significant and high level the task is, generally the better they will do, because being trusted is very motivational.

In the 80/20 formula, the first 10% is up to you to set the workup correctly so they can succeed. You give clear expectations and goals. You provide all the tools and information needed to begin and complete successfully. The 80% is on the employee for completing the work that you’ve delegated correctly. The last 10% is back to you again. You do a quality check if necessary and ask for revisions if necessary. Look for areas to improve the process.

When you work with people long enough, good delegation will most likely take many things completely off your plate and you can focus on leading, growing your business, and doing what you love. Doing what uses your gifts, and the most significant things that only you can do, is the best use of your time.

Back to John Maxwell again. He says, “If someone else can do a task better than I can, I give it away. I’ve discovered that I do only four things really well: lead, communicate, create, and network. I routinely give everything else, such as administrative and financial tasks, to the experts.”

“If someone else can do a task at least 80% as well as I can, I give it to them.” The top leaders in his companies are all people who have come up that way. They have shown their reliability and he has trusted them with more and more.

“If someone else has the potential to do a task at least 80% as well as I can, I train them.” He gives this example: “When Charlie Wetzel started researching for me, he gave me material that was of no interest or use to me. But I didn’t take that as evidence that I’d better hold onto that task. Instead, I came up with a process for teaching Charlie to look for material the way I would…Today, twenty years later, Charlie knows what I want before I do! He truly reads my mind and writes in my style. He knows my idiosyncrasies and my passions. Because of this,

Charlie can take my material and make it better. He rewrites my writing and improves what I want to say. And I agree with 98% of his choices.”

Delegation—it truly is an essential art for a successful leader that enables you to use your best energies to do what you do best.

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