Author’s Note: This weekly column offers detailed guidance for leadership actions you can take to build a better workplace, become a highly-productive leader and improve your leadership impact right now, today. Stay tuned to WRAL Techwire each Wednesday for the next edition as lessons build on top of one another. Most recently, we talked about giving better feedback as part of a focus on better management for leaders.
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.
Effective delegation allows us to leverage other people’s time, talent, energy and perspectives for scalable productivity. In other words, delegation is a critical element in your organization’s ability to scale.
The challenge of becoming great at delegation is that people often get promoted to leadership because of the work they have personally produced. Lots of people struggle 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, yes, this will be the case, but doing everything yourself won’t create a sustainable, successful business.
Your job as a leader is to manage and leverage the power of a team to achieve the goals of your organization and your clients. By saying “I can do it better,” you’re competing with your own people, which simply is not productive. And frankly, you’ll offend your team by doing for them what they can do well, can learn to do, or can do with your guidance. Here are my top tips for delegating well.
BE PEOPLE-FOCUSED, NOT TASK-FOCUSED
The delegation mindset is not so much about handing off assignments to clear your own plate but building people who can strengthen your company’s position as a topflight organization. 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. 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.
DO, DELEGATE, DELAY, OR DISCARD
Organize all your tasks into one of these four categories. The most urgent and important tasks will always go into either DO or DELEGATE. “DO” means things that you should do yourself because they’re high in both importance and priority. These tasks have deadlines and require your unique skill set to complete. Next, DELEGATE the tasks that can be handed off 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.
If something is not yet urgent or important, it may go into the DELAY or DISCARD boxes.
DELAY the items on your plate that may be important soon but aren’t yet a high priority for the organization. These things still need to be completed, but you have some flexibility over when and how they get done. In a week or two, reassess all your DELAY items to figure out whether they are now DO or DELEGATE.
And lastly, give yourself permission to DISCARD all the tasks that are of low priority and low importance to both you and your team. These may be things like partnership opportunities or interesting ideas that simply won’t move the needle for your organization. Put them in the DISCARD bucket, and get back to things that matter.
COMMUNICATE CLEAR EXPECTATIONS FOR WHAT, WHY AND HOW
Now, break things down into logistics. Every time you delegate, make sure you are communicating:
- 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?
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. 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. Notice that the “how” does not define how that person should complete the task, only how you’d like to be informed as they make progress.
Don’t micromanage by telling people exactly how to perform their jobs, but do make it clear that you expect them to give you regular status updates. 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 YOUR DOOR OPEN
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.
Better 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. In short, great delegation creates a win-win situation for you, your team and the organization at large.
About the Author
Donald Thompson is co-founder and CEO of The Diversity Movement, a results-oriented, data-driven strategic partner for organization-wide diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives recently named to Inc. Magazine’s 2021 Best in Business List in DE&I Advocacy. With two decades of experience growing and leading firms, he is a thought leader on goal achievement, influencing company culture, and driving exponential growth. An entrepreneur, public speaker, author, podcaster, Certified Diversity Executive (CDE) and executive coach, Donald also serves as a board member for several organizations in marketing, healthcare, banking, technology and sports. Connect with him on LinkedIn or at donaldthompson.com.