Editor’s note: Veteran entrepreneur and investor Donald Thompson is a regular contributor to WRAL TechWire. His columns appear on Wednesdays.

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Delegation is one of the most effective tools you have as a leader to motivate, empower, and develop your employees. In fact, I consider it a leadership core competency. If you’re intent on doing all the work yourself — or taking all the credit for it — you’re not really leading at all. As leaders, delegation allows us to leverage other people’s time, talent, energy and perspectives for scalable productivity. Delegation is critical to your company’s ability to scale.

The challenge of becoming an effective delegator is that leaders often reach their positions because of the work they have personally produced, and so they end up struggling with the transition from “doing it” to “making sure it’s done.” Also, some leaders have a hard time stopping the persistent thought of “I can do it better.” Sometimes, this is the case, but it doesn’t create a sustainable business. 

Your job is to manage the power of a team to achieve the goals of your organization and clients. Don’t compete with your own people. The truth is that you’ll offend your team by doing for them what they can do well, can learn to do, or can do with your guidance. In other words, the delegation mindset is not about handing off assignments but building people that can strengthen your company’s position as a topflight organization. 

Be people-focused

When it comes to delegation, a leader’s first responsibility is not task-focused but people-focused. That means, you need to have the right people on your team, and if you do not, you need to have the courage to make changes. Remember, you’re never going to delegate something so big that it can’t be fixed, and your team is never going to deliver an end-result without passing through your approval anyway, so there are plenty of checkpoints to ensure their quality of work. 

The stronger your team, the easier it is to delegate. Also, you need to have the right people in the right positions. If you don’t have a team that you can trust to do high-quality work, it’s time to evaluate what needs to change. This may mean making personnel changes, reassigning certain tasks, providing additional training, moving existing staff to different positions or having them report to different managers.

It’s also important to remember that your team actively wants you to delegate. Your high performers in particular — the people you lean on to maximize production and take your organization to the next level — thrive on new challenges and opportunities because those experiences allow them to grow into the career roles that they are striving for. Often, you will find that everyone on your team wants the opportunity to grow and stretch outside of their comfort zones to do great work.

Organize your tasks 

Effective delegation begins by looking at the specific task or project at hand. Remember that delegation is more than simply passing something high to low; you can delegate to your boss and your peers, as well as to those you lead. But, how do you decide which tasks to delegate? Here is my four-part formula:

  • Do – The tasks that you should do yourself are the ones that are high in both importance and priority. These are tasks or projects that are imperative to the organization, you and/or the person you report to. These tasks have deadlines and, most importantly, require your unique skill set to complete.
  • Delegate – Next, identify which tasks and projects you can hand to others, affording you the opportunity to focus on business-critical activities while also allowing the people around you to stay motivated and develop professionally.
  • Delay – These are the things on your plate that may be important but aren’t a high priority yet. These items still need to be completed, but you have some flexibility over when and how they get done. They may or may not offer opportunities to delegate, so you should plan to reassess them as “do” or “delegate” later. 
  • Discard – These are the tasks that are of low priority and low importance for both you and your team. Put them in the “discard” bucket and get back to things that matter. 

Communicate clear expectations: what, why, how

Once you’ve put tasks and projects into the appropriate categories of do, delegate, delay, and discard, it’s time to move into the logistics of delegation. Even though you are assigning someone else with the work, it’s critical that you remain accessible throughout the project. As their team or project leader, your job is to tee things up with clear expectations around quality of work, deadlines, communication, and prioritization. Then, ask your team to keep you micro-aware of where they are in the project, perhaps with weekly reports or one-on-one check-ins. Make sure you are effectively communicating the what, why, and how of every task you delegate. 

  • What are the objectives of this project?
  • Why is this project important to the organization? 
  • How would you like to be updated and involved throughout the process? 

Notice that the “how” does not define how that person should complete the task; it is about how you would like to be kept informed as they make progress. Don’t micromanage your team by telling them exactly how to perform their jobs, but do make it clear that you expect them to give you status updates on what they’ve achieved so far. By naming that expectation early in the project, you set a clear expectation for open communication but also give them autonomy and flexibility. Make it clear that their job is to get the project to 90%, but you’ll be there to provide perspective and help them polish the work to achieve the remaining 10%.  

Keep in mind that communication is a two-way street. Delegation often fails not from a lack of skill or talent but from a lack of communication. Leaders have a responsibility to provide clarity about what is expected, and direct reports have a responsibility to let the leader know if those expectations are unclear. Each side needs to ensure they are in agreement before the actual work starts. Continue to obtain clarification throughout the project as needed. 

Set clear expectations up front and keep communicating to be sure you are delegating, not just dictating. That 10% input that you retain allows you to act as a mentor or coach, guiding your employees as they develop new skills and setting the conditions for their best possible work but not micromanaging or dictating the work. In reality, you can ask for more from your team when they understand that you care for them personally and want to develop them professionally.

Effective delegation will not only help you get the highest-quality work from your team and allow them to grow and scale; it will also help you create valuable space and time on your own schedule to produce your best work. 

About the Author

Donald Thompson is an entrepreneur, public speaker, author, podcaster, Certified Diversity Executive (CDE) and executive coach. With two decades of experience growing and leading firms, he is a thought leader on goal achievement, influencing company culture, and driving exponential growth. He is also co-founder and CEO of The Diversity Movement, a results-oriented, data-driven strategic partner for organization-wide diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. Donald serves as a board member for several organizations in marketing, healthcare, banking, technology and sports. Connect with him on LinkedIn and at donaldthompson.com