Delegate Your Way To Better Leadership

Today’s topic of choice is one we have found people leaders really struggle with, and can really open up so many opportunities for them: delegation.

In coaching or workshops, we often hear managers say, "Yes, but I'm so busy, surely I can't push any more work down on to the people that report to me." Our answer is simply, “Ask, you might be surprised by the response”.

If it's the right kind of work and is something your team is interested in or think it may help with their growth and development, they’ll likely say yes. Rarely do people say no, so managers shouldn’t use that as an excuse.

It's important not to assume, especially as a people leader, because there are so many benefits of delegating. You can read more below or list to us discuss this on the People Leaders Podcast.

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Breaking the barrier

When you delegate work, you're entrusting responsibility and the authority to the person to perform that task. There are two things that you really need to be mindful of though: there is accountability and responsibility. Accountability is you; the buck stops with you, whereas responsibility is the person you are delegating to.

This is where stepping into leadership, rather than management, comes into play. When you start to work through others, that's when you become an effective leader, rather than a manager. That's why delegation is so important, because you just don't have the capacity to continue to grow and develop your team or the organisation or your business unit by taking on more work yourself. It has to be through others.

So why don’t people leaders delegate more? Fear seems to be the main reason. Fear and a lack of trust they won't get the same results they would get if they did it themselves.

Often this is made worse by people who are perfectionists, they want to do it themselves because they don't like to have mistakes. Or someone who is a thinker. According to the MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator), there are certain elements to your personality that could prevent you from delegating as effectively as you can.

The best managers we’ve seen are leaders who are great at delegating, but it's the way they delegate that’s really important.

There are too many good reasons to learn to delegate - you can start to focus on things that add value to your team in the organisation. You can develop people, and it's the best use of your time, and everybody else's time.

The dos and don’ts

So what can we delegate? Really any task that your staff could do and more importantly, anything they're better than you at doing, and maybe work that's less expensive for them to do. So if your plate, or your agenda, is quite crammed and you see space in their time, delegate.

We guarantee most of the people that report to you have more flexibility with their time than you do. They also might be able to get it done in a shorter amount of time once they know what to do.

Once you begin to make delegating tasks part of your everyday workflow, it starts to become a part of your team’s normal functions. It contributes to their training and development and improves their suitability for promotion.

Just as there are certain tasks that should definitely be delegated, there are also certain things that shouldn’t be delegated. Really anything that requires policy or planning or your key area of responsibility; things that specifically relate to you and your role.

This should be obvious: do not delegate leadership. Performance appraisals, giving and receiving feedback on behaviour are all things that come under that branch of work.

On top of that, anything that your direct manager wants you to do personally, that they have said that is a high priority or a high risk should also be on the ‘don’t delegate’ pile.

The challenge: deciding what to delegate

When it comes to delegating work, it’s important to have a process in place: choosing the tasks, knowing what the task requires, and ultimately being able to assess the risk.

First of all, you should consider the person you’re delegating to and their capability, and choose the task carefully.  Then you need to know what’s required for the task and look at the risks involved. Look at your personality and ask yourself, “Is this something I need to let go of?” See it as an opportunity to show trust in your team members and to support their development and growth.

When it comes to briefing, giving context is very important. You should describe the background to your team member and give them an idea of what standards you're looking for as well as who are the key stakeholders involved.

It’s also a good idea to set up an ongoing briefing or debriefing in terms of checking in. After you do it once, it will be so much easier for you and for them going forward.

And finally, ensure you go through the monitoring process - check, advise, review and give credit to your team members.

Delegation template

When preparing to delegate work, the first thing we encourage people to do is a bit of a diary audit. Have a look in your calendar at the last week or the last month and make a list of all the tasks you completed.

We’ve come up with a template you can use to list those tasks. Then work out how much time you think is needed for each task or activity - does it take you ten minutes, half an hour, etc.? Then place the name of your team member who is suitable for the task.

When choosing the right fit for the task, you can use our suitability index, which contains five main questions you should ask and rate from 1 (meaning yes, they are suitable) to 5 (no, they’re not suitable).

Skills and strength - does the team member have the right skills and strength to carry out the task?

Development - can you use it as a development opportunity for yourself? It could be you rate them a 5 because it would be more of a development opportunity for them.

Capacity - does this team member have the capacity in their workload in order to undertake this?

Reliability - can you rely on them?

Willingness - do they actually want to take on more tasks? If they’re not willing, rate them 1.

If they don't have the capacity but they're really strong on the willingness and the strength front, you can look at ways to free up their capacity. This could then be a delegation opportunity for somebody else.

Then you need to look at the resources needed, timing and key duration date. Sometimes resources are people, or things or events perhaps.

Lastly, think about who is impacted. It’s particularly important to consider who the key stakeholders are that are going to be impacted. If it's obviously more senior people or especially external people to the organisation, you want to make sure they are aware of that. There are consequences to getting it right and getting it wrong.

Using this template is a way of focusing the conversation when you’re sitting with your team members to set your team up for success. Some people leaders are even using it as a working document for regular team meetings to free up work so they can use their skills to lead more effectively. It can also be used for one on one discussions for things like performance reviews. It has the ability to create targeted conversations with your team members.

Our biggest tip for delegating work is to prepare: use it as an opportunity to have a conversation and focus their attention to the way in which they operate.

Can you imagine if you delegated a new task or a development opportunity to every team member once a month? Use the opportunity to do something different.

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