Great leaders delegate. That’s because great leadership calls for expanding your impact by influencing work through others. It’s not always an easy thing for leaders to do. An article in Harvard Business Review identified that one of the most difficult transitions for leaders to make is from doing to leading. Simply put, it can seem to a productive leader that to delegate is shirk responsibility or to spend too much time training others.
Many times, when I coach with high-achieving leaders, I listen as they express that they want to delegate more but can’t find the time. Others say they aren’t sure who they can delegate to or what to delegate. A few openly say they’d rather do things themselves because it’s easier and will get done the way they want it done. There are lots of reasons leaders fail to delegate.
I believe the benefits of delegating outweigh the perceived costs. I say perceived costs because most of the reasons people tell themselves to avoid delegating are more about worry than reason. They worry things will go wrong or get missed—and it will cost them time, resources, or reputation. The truth is that by failing to delegate over these worries about possible future problems, they are paying a high price in their present reality.
WHY YOU MUST DELEGATE
The reasons leaders must delegate can be summarized this way: To expand your Impact and grow your team. This is part of that mindset shift from doing to leading. Effective leaders are concerned with getting work done through others—motivating them, equipping them, directing their efforts, and maximizing their potential to achieve desired outcomes for the organization.
If you have leadership responsibility, then you have a duty to expand your impact. You can’t do it all. One of the deceptive challenges for high achievers is that they can pile on the workload and do without sleep for a long time. I coached with a small business owner who’d lived on four daily hours of sleep during his business start-up years. He worked hard to build substantial revenue and market awareness in under three years. His success was undeniable. Yet he knew he wanted more impact than what he could personally produce. He needed to delegate some of his workload so that he could focus his energy on business growth and strategy.
Leaders also have a duty to develop others. For the business owner, developing others was a necessary part of growing his business. The same is true for a leader within an organization. Leadership at its best is a form of service—to give of oneself and add value to others. Yet workplaces are too often littered with leaders who seek first what’s in it for them. The abdicate their duty to serve and instead keep work under their control and in their name only. It limits organizational effectiveness, stunts business growth, and hampers quality and results. These limits are lifted when leaders develop others because it multiplies both motivation and ability. To delegate work to others is to empower them and help them develop their ability to grow.
EMBRACE WHAT IT WILL MEAN FOR YOU TO DELEGATE
The first step to effectively delegate is reframe your thoughts and beliefs about delegation. Understand that it can take time and concentrated effort to learn to delegate with confidence. In the book, Principle Centered Leadership, Stephen R. Covey said that effective delegation takes emotional courage because when we delegate we choose to allow others the room to make mistakes on our time or under our name.
Give yourself permission to consider what inhibits your readiness to delegate. Then evaluate what it costs you and the organization when you neglect to expand your impact and empower others through delegation. Weigh that against the gains and results you could instead garner by delegating wisely. Allow this envisioned potential to be your new frame of reference for the power and importance of delegating.
Gallup has identified measurable outcomes businesses can gain when their leaders delegate well. Their research showed that a delegating environment can increase business growth by more than 100% of growth in businesses with limited delegation. The higher delegation business also had 33% greater revenue and created jobs at a fast rate. Their findings show significant and tangible results from delegating. Consider the similar results you can have, as well as the benefits of developing others to contribute more, and your delegating motivation will get stronger and stronger.
WHAT TO DELEGATE
Knowing what to delegate with become more evident once you’ve reframed how you think about delegating. If you’ve shifted your mindset to embrace delegating, then you can trust your instincts on what to delegate. Think about what will help free your focus, empower others to excel, and leverage organizational resources. Here are some places to start:
Recurring tasks: One of my clients saved several weekly hours by identifying repeatable tasks that she could delegate to team members. Some of those tasks were easily recognizable as projects her organized assistant could do in less time. If it is recurring and has a process that others can repeat, put it on the delegate list.
Tasks others might do better than you: This one requires some of that courage the Covey referenced. It also requires you to know yourself and understand your strengths. Work in your strength zone and observe the talent in those around you. What can they do better than you?
Projects that take too much time: It’s a common struggle for many of my clients that they “need more time” before they can prepare to delegate. Many times, it’s because the client is buried under their own pile of projects or in meetings most of the week. I recommend you take audit of your time. Look for the chunks of time that keep you in the “doing” space and prevent you from leading. What will give you the greatest return if you delegate it?
Projects that will help others grow or become more engaged in the mission: People want purpose. They want their work to be significant and relevant to the organization and the people it serves. Identify projects that you believe will help others gain new skills, become more attached to the goals, or increase their confidence as leaders.
HOW TO DELEGATE
Start with the end in mind
What results to you need? Get clear in your mind about the outcomes you expect from the delegated task. You’ll want the other person to know what is needed and still have the freedom to do the work their way and add value or improve processes.
Find the right person
You probably have someone in mind when you identify a task to delegate. Match the task with the person most capable, or the person whose natural talents are most aligned with the type of work the task entails. Also consider who most needs to learn similar tasks to grow in the organization.
Communicate the Who What, Why, When (and some of the How)
Be clear about who is doing what. Empower and motivate them by articulating why the task needs done, and why you need that person to do it. Give deadlines. Share some of the how by clearly stating the necessary standards or known pitfalls. Give them the parameters and guidelines balanced be the freedom to create and innovate.
Your goals are to expand your impact and develop others. Remember this when you delegate. Don’t just pile on tasks and hope for the best. Seek insight from the other person. Invite questions both for clarification and improvements. Encourage suggestions.
Invest Training Time
This is one of the big barriers in making time to delegate. Shift your perspective. Training people well my cost you time in the short term, but it will pay greater dividends in the long run. It will make others more capable and equip them to multiply effects not only in the task itself, but also in their ability to also train others. It will also pay off for you personally to learn how to better prioritize your time and energy.
Commit to a Feedback and Progress Management Rhythm
Avoid the extremes that often derail delegation: Abdication and Micromanaging. You don’t want to dump the project and run. To avoid abdication, commit to offering and receiving feedback regularly. Review the quality of work and give relevant praise or tips for improvement. Ask also if you’ve shared enough information and provided the right resources. To avoid micromanaging, commit upfront to a rhythm of communication for progress updates and check-ins.