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The Art of Delegation

Build skills, trust, and a healthy workplace.


For many, ‘delegation’ is a dirty word.

Memories of being ‘dumped on’, ‘manipulated’, or ‘cajoled’ into taking on a project, act as constant reminders of what it feels like to be on the receiving end of delegation.

Your experience of delegation has undoubtedly shaped your views. At some point in your career, you’ll remember being given a project with ridiculously tight deadlines, very little direction and support, or no real say in how you got it done. You recall the stress, anxiety, and pressure to deliver. And it wasn’t pleasant.

And now you’re the leader. You’re the one in a position to delegate to others.

But where do you start?

How do you get it right?

Before we get to that, I want to share the most common reasons why you might avoid delegation.

1. You may be new to leadership and you want to avoid giving the impression that you can’t cope with the workload. So you do everything yourself.

2. We can’t all be good at everything. Doing work outside your ‘genius-zone’ will take far longer than it should. But your desire to appear ‘competent’ makes you push through and you do the work anyway.

3. You have delegated work in the past, and you found the explanations took far longer than doing the task itself. Now you’re so busy, you just do the work yourself because you don’t have the time to explain it to someone else.

4. You delegated work in the past and the result wasn’t what you wanted. You then spent hours fixing it when it would have taken you a fraction of the time to do it yourself.

Can you relate to any of those?

One thing is for certain. At some point in your career, you’ll get so snowed under that you’ll be forced to delegate to get work done. And that won’t be a great experience for anyone involved.

When you delegate under pressure, you rush decisions and ‘offload’ work, rather than consciously delegating it. Your team becomes stressed and irritable. They feel ‘dumped on’. You get mediocre work, and now you’re more stressed than ever! And so is your team.

Delegation is an art.

When you delegate consciously and deliberately, you’ll get you the results you need. And your team will feel valued and appreciated.

As with most things, you improve your skills only when you take action. So to learn to delegate well, you have to do it.

As daunting as it might seem now, imagine how it would feel to have time to think. To focus on those big, urgent, or far-reaching decisions.

Imagine having the confidence of knowing you have capacity to deal with the unexpected.

You’ll be more able to make sound decisions.

You’ll be a stabilizing influence for your team.

Your stress level will be well under control.

And you won’t have to work fifty hours per week.

Here’s the good news.

Delegation is something you can learn to do.

And like most things, it’s not that hard once you get started.

Follow these guidelines, and you’ll be well on your way to mastering the art.

How To Delegate The Right Way.

Before you delegate anything to anyone, first ask yourself these three fundamental questions:

1. When should I delegate?

2. To whom should I delegate?

3. How should I delegate?

When Should You Delegate?

When done properly, delegation is a win for both parties. Consider delegating when:

a. There is someone who will benefit from doing the task. When someone can grow, develop, and learn, and you can support them.

b. Someone excels in the types of work outside your genius zone. Where a task or project ‘sucks the life out of you’, ask yourself if you’ll do your best work? The answer is, of course, no. So look inside and outside your team, and find the person or persons who will thrive doing the work you don’t enjoy. This can add job satisfaction for you, and for the person to whom you’re delegating.

c. Someone has more experience, skills, training, or knowledge in a specific area. Be humble and acknowledge when you can learn by delegating to others. Stay involved as a member of the team so that you acquire new skills and knowledge. But delegate the leadership to someone else. Delegating to others can be great for your development too!

d. The deadline is sufficiently far into the future that it gives you time to provide a thorough briefing. Delegation takes time and where deadlines are short, you’d be best advised to gather a team and lead the charge yourself. Where you have time to explain the details, delegation works well.

e. The outcome is not critical. Assess the impact of the project. If it is crucially important or has far-reaching implications, it would be unreasonable to delegate that kind of responsibility to someone else. Involve others, but you keep hold of the reins. Delegate projects that have room for ‘acceptable’, not ‘perfect’, outcomes.

To Whom Should You Delegate?

Perhaps the most important factor to consider is to whom you delegate. Getting this right will get the job done, and will add job satisfaction for your and others. Consider:

a. Is there anyone [other than you] with the skills, knowledge, and experience to do what you need to get done? To do the job well, they need some degree of all three.

b. Do they have the time and resources to do the work? If not, consider outsourcing the task or project.

c. Is there someone who could benefit from doing this task or project? Consider their career goals, development needs, and style of working.

d. Who would enjoy this task or project? Who would get satisfaction from doing this?

e. Does the person have the influence and authority to be able to complete the task or project? If not by ‘rank’, what can you do to assign authority and influence to them?

f. Consider your relationship with the person. Can you rely on them to tell you if they run into difficulty? Do they have the maturity to take on this additional responsibility? Is there a direct line of reporting?

How Should You Delegate?

To delegate successfully, the process should be considered and ‘graceful’. Each party should benefit with increased job satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment. To delegate well, keep these principles in mind.

a. Include people in the process. Address their development areas and, where possible, offer them several responsibilities and allow them to choose. You’ll get greater commitment and better results when they have a say in the process.

Brief them thoroughly. Clearly articulate:

a. The specific task

b. The desired outcome

c. The deadline

d. Resources available

e. How, and how often to report back

f. The boundaries; how much authority and responsibility do they have? Do you want them to check every action with you, or do you just want to know when road-blocks occur? Be specific.

g. Your expectations

h. The benefit to them

c. Keep your eye on the results, not on the process. Articulate the desired result and allow the person to achieve it their own way.

d. Give feedback. Take frequent opportunities to recognize the work and give credit where credit is due.

e. Wherever possible, allow the person doing the work to deliver/present it, and you give full support.

f. Delegate work to people who are best-placed to do it. The closer the person is to the work, the better able they are to do it.

g. Provide support. Read work that you are asked to review. Listen to updates. Ask questions.

h. Ask questions rather than provide solutions. When road-blocks arise, resist the temptation to solve the problem. Instead, ask questions and help the person to work out the solution for themselves. You both benefit in the long-term.

i. Keep sight of the fact that you will always be accountable. You may delegate responsibility but not accountability. The buck will always stop with you.

j. Say thank you. I know, obvious isn’t it? And surprising how often it’s overlooked. A written or verbal thank you, especially when delivered publically, can go a very long way.

Delegation — The Benefits

Delegating work to others takes time and effort.

But the benefits of delegating are many.

Perhaps obvious, you can produce far more work in the same amount of time.

You produce a higher quality of work as you, and those around you, are less stressed and more productive. You employ your teams’ skills effectively and efficiently, as each team member is offered the opportunity to work in their genius zone.

You release space in your brain so that decisions can be taken carefully and with due consideration.

You have capacity to deal with situations as they arise, often heading off a crisis before it occurs.

Perhaps less obvious, delegation improves trust among your team. Something especially important in highly unpredictable work environments. When you release work to your team, it sends the message that you trust them and believe they are capable. As a result, job satisfaction increases, stress decreases, and relationships improve.

Delegation is an art. Master it, and you and your team will spend more time working on the things you enjoy. And that makes for a better work experience for all concerned.

Originally published at medium.com

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