Mastering the Art of Delegation

October 24th, 2018

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“The best leaders are the ones have enough sense to pick good men to do what they want done and self restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.” – Theodore Roosevelt

We all know that our success is greater than us as individuals. However when it comes to letting go, entrusting others and delegating it can be easier said than done.  Building teams and surrounding ourselves with those who are not only willing and able, but who also value quality and pursue excellence is what we as leaders all aspire to do. But are we our greatest challenge? Are we limiting our success by not mastering the art of delegation?

Make no mistake, you can make or break your leadership success by the way you delegate… or in your failure to delegate. Great delegation not only saves time, money and frustration, it also provides you with an opportunity to build capability and capacity in your people. It is a balancing act that not only requires you to understand how to delegate but what level of delegation to adopt.

Recognising how and why you delegate (or not) is quite possibly the key to working out how to do it properly. For most people, they simply don’t do it because it takes a lot of effort up-front. When you are capable of carrying out the task or project in your sleep and it is relatively straightforward for you to complete, it is very tempting to adopt the mindset of “It’s just quicker and easier if I do it myself’. The big question though is ‘Would it be a good use of my time?’ If you do this for all the little things that you are more than capable of, you will very quickly find yourself not only operating at a lower level but also missing opportunities for yourself and your team because you are too busy to see them.

The second reason that many people fail to delegate is that they find it difficult to relinquish control. How often have you felt the wave of disappointment with the results of what you have delegated? The results don’t match what you had expected or aren’t in line with the way in which you would have done it. Sometimes this is due to the person carrying out the task but sometimes it is also the fault of the person giving the task or project. Understanding what level of delegation is appropriate for the project and to what person is key.

At the heart of effective delegation is communication and clarity. As leaders, you firstly need to be very clear about what you must do versus what you entrust to others. Gaining buy-in or desire from others to want to support and be involved is the next critical step to ensuring quality outcomes are achieved. People are much more engaged and committed to delivering on a responsibility when they have been bought through a process of agreeing to it. By investing in time to explain, discuss and agree the critical outcomes, responsibilities and timeframes you are creating robust frameworks for success.

Understanding who to delegate what to and the extent of freedom to deliver is possibly one of the hardest aspects to mastering the art of delegation. It is also a fundamental driver of organizational effectiveness and the growth of your people, as well as your own success.

To do this effectively you need to understand the capability of your people and what you require in order to remain ultimately accountable as the manager. I would encourage you to think about the 6 levels of delegation below and where they may best apply to you, your current team and projects. Each level progressively offers more autonomy and ownership for the person(s) involved.

  1. Instruction: ‘I need you to do exactly this…A,B,C’
  2. Investigation: ‘Can you please gather me information on XYZ and come back to me for a decision’
  3. Investigation and Decision Making: ‘Once you have all of the information, let’s sit down together to discuss and decide next steps’. A higher level of this could include the additional step of being advised what help is required from you as a leader.
  4. Analysis and Recommendation: ‘What is your view of the situation and recommendation for proceeding?’
  5. Recommendation and Sign Off: ‘Let me know your decision and why before checking back in with me to proceed’
  6. Manage and Inform: ‘Happy for you to do what you think is best, just keep me in the loop or report back to me by X time’

Underpinning the success of all levels is the communication and support frameworks that surround them. Open, transparent and timely communication is critical if people are to feel empowered and supported in what they need to do. Opportunities to ask questions, collaborate and discuss outcomes at any point will not only empower individuals but also motivate and drive commitment to the project and the results.  Without these frameworks in place you run the risk of ‘upward delegation’, which occurs when people run into trouble and they shift their responsibility back to you.

As leaders we all have an obligation to not just deliver on our core responsibilities but to maximise results and opportunities for our business and our people. For those who learn to master the art of delegation, they learn to do this not just for others but also for themselves.

What are some of the biggest challenges you find when delegating? As always, I would love to hear your thoughts.

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