Most leaders are familiar with this. Oftentimes, it feels like there’s far too much to get done in so little time. You know that delegating can help solve this problem and that it would also help your team develop and enhance crucial skills. However, delegating doesn’t come easy to a lot of leaders.
This is usually down to a couple of factors. One is that most leaders feel that it would be more efficient to just do things themselves. They do, after all, have the authority and the expertise for the tasks in question. This way, they can be sure that the task will be done well and will be accomplished in time.
Another factor is that effectively delegating tasks is a skill that takes time and effort to learn. This would involve training your staff or your employees yourself, and that can eat into your already packed schedule. Furthermore, delegating requires making allowances for errors, especially in the beginning, so a lot of leaders hesitate to entrust key tasks to their subordinates precisely because these errors might delay certain projects or could compel them to have to clean up the ensuing mess.
However, the refusal to delegate could cost you in the long run. Taking on too many non-essential tasks saps your energy and takes time away from activities that actually get you closer to yours or your company’s goals.
Plus, if nothing else, failing to delegate also curtails your staff’s ability to grow.
Thus, a leader’s failure to delegate helps no one, least of all the leader in question. But how can you tell if you’re taking on too much? What things are a clear indicator that you need to start delegating, and soon?
Recognize Warning Signs
You’re working long hours, but your staff are not. Sure, there may be times when everyone might need to pitch in a bit more to finish a project. However, if you find yourself working overtime more often while everyone else isn’t, you might be taking on more work than you should, especially if a good chunk of that involves things that don’t require your authority or unique skills.
You feel that you’re the only one taking ownership over projects. Do you ever feel like you’re the only one who cares how a project turns out? Or that your people aren’t particularly invested and aren’t really contributing ideas or taking the initiative for certain things?One of the reasons could be because they don’t feel especially involved in the projects. The best remedy for that is to give them more responsibility. In other words, assign them tasks that have a direct impact on a project’s outcome, but be sure to give them enough support to carry these out.
You feel indispensable. Ah, this feeling is addictive, but it’s also misleading. The most effective teams aren’t led by indispensable leaders. They’re made up of indispensable members who all carry out unique and specific functions according to their abilities.A good leader’s primary job is to create an environment where all members are able to do exactly that.
Understand Your Why
Before you start delegating, dig deep and figure out why you’ve been so hesitant to let go of certain tasks and responsibilities. Specifically, do your reasons include any of the following below?
Perfectionism. Perhaps you feel that it’s easier to do everything yourself, and thus ensure that everything goes smoothly since you’re more experienced and maybe even better-skilled than the people on your team. That might be so, but you’ll run yourself ragged going down this route and undermine the rest of the team along the way.
Lack of self-confidence. Some leaders hoard work out of fear that their subordinates could upstage them if they cede a bit of ground. Here’s the thing. The sooner your subordinates get the hang of things, the sooner you can focus on the one thing you do best: leading the team.It might not seem that way now, but harnessing your people’s best abilities is no threat to you at all. Quite the contrary. Pulling that off would prove your effectiveness as a leader, not to mention ensure that things won’t go to pieces if you so much as take a day off.
Self-preservation. This might have more to do with your working environment than any internal factors. For instance, if you work in a company where a good manager is nice to have, but isn’t particularly essential because there’s more emphasis on the output produced, there’s not a lot of motivation to delegate. However, you will eventually come to the conclusion that you can’t do everything yourself regardless, and your ability to produce the desired results could suffer if you don’t deal with this properly. Do note that no one is immune to these biases, so don’t feel bad if they hit a little too close to home for comfort. Instead, focus on what you’re doing to counter them and direct your energies towards the process of letting go of these harmful beliefs as you embark on the next steps.
Selecting Tasks to Delegate
Tiny These are small and seemingly inconsequential on their own, but they add up. They also might only take a few minutes to complete, but they still pull you out of the flow of more strategic work.Examples include booking airline tickets and hotel accommodations, ordering lunch, and registering for a conference or event.
Tedious Manually inputting a 100-item customer order is fairly simple, but it’s not exactly the best use of your time, is it? It is still a critical task, though, but things like this ought to be delegated to anyone EXCEPT key decision makers. You can find better things to do with your time.
Time-Consuming In contrast, these tasks might be time-consuming and are important, but again, the majority of them don’t need your hands-on participation. For example, you do need to sign off on the final copy of a marketing report, but you don’t need to be the one doing the actual research for it.
Teachable Some tasks might not seem to be compatible with delegating because they might seem too complex. Upon closer inspection, however, they can be broken down into smaller tasks that can be taught or passed on to other people, subject to your final approval and occasional quality checks along the way, of course.
Terrible At Let’s face it. There are just some things you won’t be good at. You could spend all day, say, trying to draft a layout for your restaurant menu and it still wouldn’t come close to what a professional graphic artist could produce in a fraction of that time. In cases like this, it’s best to just hire a professional so you can go ahead and do the things you are actually good at.
Time Sensitive Just about all SME owners feel the sheer lack of time each day. Sometimes, there will be time-sensitive tasks that will emerge and compete with your other, more pressing priorities. You might need to dispute an over-inflated phone bill, for example, but that would involve having to call up a hotline and deal with long waiting times, all while you’re in the middle of closing an important deal with a key client. In this case, it isn’t too hard to identify which task you’d be better off delegating, right?
How to Delegate Successfully
Define the Work
You won’t be able to delegate effectively unless you can clearly communicate what needs to be done, and that means understanding three crucial aspects of the job. These are:
The scope of the work. You can draw up a work breakdown structure to break a project down to manageable tasks, which you can then divide between your team. This doesn’t just identify a project’s key pieces, but it also ensures that no task is too big for one employee to manage.
Expected outcomes. These define the output that you expect from each employee. It should be measurable, such as a document, a presentation, or even a multimedia presentation so that your employee will have a clear objective and both of you would have a tangible indicator as to whether a task is finished or not.
Deadlines. As with the expected outcome, your employee should also know when they’re supposed to finish the task. It’s very crucial to communicate these because they’ll help the employee prioritise things properly.It’s important to settle and then communicate these three things so that you and your employee can align your expectations and avoid misunderstandings along the way.
Choose the Right People
Here’s another reason why you shouldn’t skip the first step. Reflecting on a project or job’s requirements also makes it easier to identify the right person for the job. Get it right, and that’s half the battle right there.
Obviously, you want to align the work at hand with each team member’s skills, knowledge, and experience. For example, if you need to produce marketing collaterals, it’s best to assign it to someone from the marketing team, such as your content writer or your graphic designer.
Furthermore, it also helps to consider their working style and inclinations. If a certain task requires a great deal of collaboration, it would be best not to assign it to someone who prefers to work independently.
Assign the Tasks
Now, it’s time to actually assign the tasks. To that end, here are some concrete suggestions with which to go about it:
Set expectations and communicate these early on. Be as specific as possible about what needs to be done. (Refer to “Define the Work” for more details.) Get feedback from areas of concern, such as whether the deadline is reasonable or not, and which resources can help the employee get things done.
Get both the manager and the employee to buy-in. If the employee for the job is reporting to a different manager, you need to approach the latter first. Explain to both of them why this task is crucial, how it can benefit the company, and everyone, and why you think the person you’re delegating it to is the right one. Most importantly, emphasise that you will be providing proper support every step of the way.
If possible, allow for self-delegation. This can be especially effective if you’ve assembled a cross-functional team from different departments. With all the tasks rolled out, give each member a chance to select their preferred tasks. This will enable them to play to their strengths better, and will also strengthen their commitment to the project.
Delegating isn’t just about assigning tasks. You also need to equip your employee for the job. While the assignment’s scope, deadlines, and deliverables should be clearly defined, it’s best to leave the “how” part to your employee. Otherwise, you’ll just end up micromanaging them and cause both parties to feel frustrated.
A fully-empowered employee should have access to the following:
Enough authority. Don’t assign a high-level or confidential task to an entry-level employee, obviously. As a rule, a staff member should have enough free rein to decide on the things they need to get done. The instances where they need to seek approval should be rare.
The right resources. Failing to provide your employee with the right resources is akin to sending a soldier off to war without weapons. Thus, they need to have the right tools, knowledge, and other such resources for the job. If they need to learn how to use a new tool or application to carry out a task, allot enough time for this when laying down deadlines.
Proper guidance. While you obviously want your employee to operate independently after the initial briefing, you should still be available in case they might have questions or if a concern might arise.
Use Feedback Loops
These loops can render micromanagement unnecessary as they establish two-way communication and accountability. This way, employees can share any challenges they might encounter, provide ideas for getting things done faster, or simply to provide input.
Generally, your feedback looks should focus on the following:
Milestones. These are for checking to see where an employee is at in terms of project completion. Think of them as natural checkpoints.
Check-ins. How frequently you touch base with your team would depend on the intensity of the tasks or project. Regardless of what schedule you choose, be sure it makes sense for all involved. Some projects might require daily check-ins, while a weekly meeting might make more sense for some tasks.
Recognition. Periodic check-ins are a great opportunity to boost morale and increase your team’s commitment. Apart from getting the lowdown on a task or project’s progress, do celebrate early or small wins and show appreciation for your team’s efforts. You can bet that these small gestures will go a long way towards increasing not just their dedication to the task, but also the likelihood that they’ll want to work with you again in the future.
Best Practices from Leaders
To conclude, let’s talk about a few specific tips that leaders who’ve been successfully delegating often swear by.
Inspire Their Commitment
People are more likely to be committed to an outcome or a project if they clearly understand their role in bringing it about and how crucial it is. This gives them a sense of ownership and pride in being a big part of making something great or amazing happen.
Do note that you’ll still need to align the person’s skills and inclinations to the task for this to be effective. You also need to carefully communicate any and all additional expectations to ensure that they understand what is expected of them, and how they should go about it, especially if you prefer a precise methodology or outcome.
Share Responsibility and Give Autonomy
Delegating isn’t just about sharing tasks. It’s also about sharing responsibilities. (Remember what we said about inspiring people to commit?) How do you know if you’re sharing responsibilities as opposed to tasks? Ask yourself this, if you were to take an unplanned leave for a week starting today, would your initiatives and projects still progress.
If the answer is yes, you’re doing just fine. Otherwise, you might want to look into granting your subordinates a bit more autonomy.
Before you do that, however, be sure that you assigned the tasks to the right person (i.e., with the appropriate level of authority within the company) and that they have enough resources to do the job before you set them free. Resources can mean the right training, a sufficient budget, adjusted priorities, or the right support team.
See Mistakes and Risks as Learning Opportunities
It’s all too tempting to see mistakes as further proof that you shouldn’t have outsourced or delegated the task or job, but don’t fall into that mindset.
Instead, see mistakes as teaching moments. What went wrong? What should the person do to prevent this from happening next time? Are they in need of additional support from your end to do better? What sort of leadership or level of involvement will they need from you for added confidence?
These are just some of the questions to reflect on or discuss in case something goes wrong. If it’s your first time delegating, be sure to give your subordinates (and yourself) the grace to make mistakes and bounce back too. It might feel unnatural and weird at first, but with a little perseverance and with the right direction, you’ll eventually get the hang of things and your team will be all the better for it.