As a business owner, or manager, when every plate is spinning, and your to-do list is longer than your left arm, you know something has to give. It’s at this point that most people think about delegating.
But although it might be the obvious solution for over-worked, over-burdened leaders, effective delegation isn’t easy to master, requiring a strong toolkit of skills and techniques. Done properly, it’s a partnership, and that means shifting from an: “I need someone to do this” approach, to one that’s more: “I’m going to teach someone to do this, so that they can run with it when I need them to.”
So, while it’s common to leave delegation until you’re already at ‘panic stage’, that doesn’t set anyone up for success! In reality, it takes a much more planned and strategic approach.
To help you get it right, here are some insights and advice that should help to demystify the dark art of successful delegation.
People who struggle to delegate often don’t realise that delegation should be about trust, empowerment and autonomy. It’s not about giving someone a load of jobs that you don’t want to do and forgetting about them! Or as people will often hear me saying, “it isn’t about flinging the sh*t over the wall”.
When harnessed properly and thoughtfully, delegation is a way to drive and develop performance and ultimately help you to grow both yourself and your business. There is a famous quote: “If you can’t be replaced, you can’t be promoted” - always helpful to remember if you’re struggling to let go!
Effective delegation not only benefits you as the business leader, it also provides valuable development and engagement opportunities for your team. In contrast, ineffective delegation benefits no-one and can lead to a demotivated and disengaged team on top. So, it pays to invest the time in getting it right.
Successful delegation will:
The saying “if you want something done, then do it yourself” is the enemy of delegation. It’s the same as saying “if you want to build something unscalable then do it yourself,” and certainly won’t help you to grow an awesome business. As John C Maxwell, a bestselling author on leadership said: “If you want to do a few small things right, do them yourself. If you want to do great things and make a big impact, learn to delegate.”
Similarly, it’s also common to think (especially amongst those with a more controlling nature!) that delegating tasks just ends up taking longer, and that work won’t come back the way you want. This is the single biggest pitfall when it comes to ineffective delegation, but fear not, there are techniques to deal with it.
Delegation is a learned skill that will grow with you over time. It rarely comes naturally and often involves a lot of trial and error!
To overcome these hurdles, the main things to consider are what you are delegating and how.
What to delegate?
If it’s a menial task that will take a couple of seconds, but you feel it’s ‘beneath you,’ then get over yourself and do it! Delegation is about development and empowerment, so itty-bitty, mundane tasks aren’t the sort of things you should be looking to delegate. And the same goes for the praise, promotion and discipline of your team, anything you have been asked to do personally, or financial accountability - these are yours to do and no one else’s.
As Sabina Nawaz, who writes about this topic a lot, says: delegation is a “shared task”. That means you need to take time to assess the activities and roles that you want to delegate, then match them with the person who is not only best placed to take them on, but also the person who wants or needs to develop the relevant skills as part of their own growth.
How to delegate
For those of you that like a very clearly defined process, the following steps will help...
Once tasks are defined, and team members selected, a critical stage of delegation is in explaining and overseeing the work, role, project or task. For this part it can be useful to think of a football coach - they HAVE to delegate. They can’t play the game. They might be stressed on the side lines, but they’re not playing!
They do this by outlining what the outcome should be and making a detailed plan, including clarifying roles, being explicit about expectations, frequency of check-ins (normally half-time in a football match), the amount of time and resources available,and expected behaviours.
By providing a “game plan”, there is clarity around expectations.
Then over time, you can start building more and more autonomy into this process, giving team members ownership over the work, so it stops being something to delegate. This forms a vital part of the progression of your people.
As people take on more, they’ll become more experienced, their understanding of the context and the problem will improve, and you’ll see trust between you start to develop, along with performance. As this happens, you can start to progress your approach even further, following a similar process to that outlined below (pinched from Sabina Nawaz but used frequently in a number of formats), which helps to show you, as a delegator, how to progress with learning, delegation, and teaching skills. Ultimately, you’re aiming for the red box, but this is of course not the place to start and isn’t easy to get to. But hey, what’s the point in aiming for something that doesn’t raise your own game?!
Great delegation takes practice, particularly when you’re dealing with a range of personalities, abilities and dynamics within your team. That’s why it’s so important to take a step back to consider the needs of your team members as well as yourself. Delegation for you is essentially their development, so you need to think about their needs, not just yours. And by taking this approach, you won’t only help them to perform, but also give yourself more time, whether for your own development, driving growth, or spending time with your family - and who doesn’t want that!
Anouk Agussol, Founder and CEO of Unleashed
Food for thought
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