Best Practices for Leadership Delegation
Delegating is a necessity in today’s fast-paced, multitasking work environments. In fact, in a recent Gallup study about delegation and leader talent profiles, researchers found that organizations run by CEOs with high delegator talent grew 112 percentage points greater than those organizations run by CEOs with limited or low delegator talent.
But mastering delegation is important for more than just the top tier executives. Effective delegation in any level of leadership affects not just efficiency, but can also maximize employees’ strengths, skyrocket motivation and productivity, stimulate commitment and buy-in, and create an effective leadership pipeline.
How well do you delegate?
Take this short quiz to see how you match up with the best:
Yes or no?
- Are you willing to relinquish control over tasks to others?
- Do you know what your employees naturally do best and assign them tasks at which they can excel?
- Do you genuinely care about your employees’ growth, know how they want to grow in the company, and provide them tasks that will help them get there?
- Do you provide each of your employees with the specific things they need to do their job?
- Do you consistently set clear expectations of outcomes but allow employees to determine the process?
- Do you trust employees to take ownership of assignments and do you give them autonomy to make decisions?
- Do you frequently provide constructive feedback on what is working and what is not through effective project monitoring and end-of-project debriefing?
- Do you foster an atmosphere of respect by recognizing employees for hard work and a job well done?
78% of personnel in major corporations believe their boss, manager, or superior to whom they have a reporting relationship routinely does work that could more effectively done at a lower level.
Check your intentions
Gallup’s research on delegation in leaders in the abovementioned study suggests that delegation shortcomings have to do with the fact that we’re thinking about delegating all wrong.
While most of us delegate with the intention of maximizing time (a self-mindset), high-talent delegators actually delegate with development in mind.
- Delegating with a self-mindset means you’re delegating to maximize your own time so you can personally bring greater benefit to the company.
- Delegating with a development mindset means you’re strategically developing others to elevate the skills and capabilities of your whole team.
What does a self-mindset in delegation look like?
Some leaders who have difficulty delegating often have some of the following responses to delegation:
- I enjoy what I do and don’t want to sacrifice their work
- No one else can do it as well as I can
- It’ll take longer to teach someone to do it than it will take to do myself
- It might make me look bad if someone does a better job than me
- I don’t want to burden people with my additional work
- It will be easier to do it myself
- The company expects me to do this work since I’m the expert
- I don’t want to jeopardize my position by making myself irrelevant
While many of these reasons on the surface—and certainly to the person voicing them—may seem like they’re in the best interest in the company, the reality is that the mindset is often one of maintaining self-worth and protecting ego.
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What does a high-talent delegator’s mindset actually look like?
Higher-talent delegators begin with the intention to develop other people. They ask questions like:
- What opportunities and growth can I provide others?
- Who needs to learn how to do this task?
- Who might be interested in taking on this assignment?
- Who is doing work that no longer challenges them?
- Who needs to learn to take on a responsibility
- Who is interested in doing a new task?
- Who is ultimately going to take my place when I am reassigned?
- Who has growth goals within the organization and what tasks can they learn that will help them get there?
Take a moment to think about your employees’ levels of development and how much responsibility you believe they are capable of taking on.
If you delegate work to them over time, your employees will continue to develop their skills and knowledge. This growth and development make them (and you) a more valuable investment to your team and company.
In my years of leadership development, I’ve spoken with hundreds of leaders who experienced the transition from a self-mindset delegation approach to a development-mindset delegation approach. Here’s what some of them have said about the process.
Delegation from a leader’s perspective: A run-in with change
Tara, a leader participating in an intense, several months long HiPo leadership program, shared her experience with me:
“The increased workload during the program required me to delegate without ‘authority’ to a project team that was understaffed. I’ll admit I did some pathetic delegation in the form of ‘this is yours, you own it now.’ That didn’t work and probably created some tension in relationships.
“My more effective delegations included some form of empowerment, giving the recipient some tools, resources or knowledge to be able to do the job. This included guidance to ‘work with this person’ or ‘review this example,’ and come to me if you get stuck.
When the work got done, I had to force myself to not review it terms of how I would have done it but in terms of whether or not it met the objective.“
Delegation from a leader’s perspective: The light bulb
Gerard, another leader in a similar situation shared his before and after experiences with delegation.
“I viewed delegation as a way to re-allocate work. I thought my boss was more concerned about how much work I get done.
“My delegation was reactive and based on how overloaded I was. Delegation was a tool I used to off-load tasks. My main reluctance to delegating these tasks was that the work would not get done as well unless I did it myself.
“Then the light bulb went on. I began to see delegation as a way to lead and develop people. My delegation is now more proactive and based on the capabilities and development opportunities I see for my staff. I understand that what I may lose in not doing the work myself is more than made up for in the diversity of thought and people development that comes from letting go.
“So delegation is now a theme I use to address all my work. Instead of delegating tasks, I delegate objectives and outcomes. My long term leadership potential is based on how much work I enable through others and how much they grow and develop.”
Delegation from a leader’s perspective: A self-analysis
A third leader, Stephanie, had this to say about how planning a delegation has helped her be more effective:
“It has helped me to list out what areas I need to delegate and which skills are needed to accomplish those tasks so I can delegate to the right person (right tasks to the right person so we all can benefit and be successful).
“I have found that I need to be deliberate about delegation and actually take some time to plan an effective delegation.
“I have found that delegation also builds the team as they then can ‘own the outcomes’ and feel engaged in the work and decision-making process. I have also found that having a follow up conversation to make sure that they understand the task and ask any clarifying questions is important so that we are on the same page and have a common understand of what success looks like when complete.”
Change your perception
Delegating is a necessity in today’s fast-paced, multitasking work environments. With ever-changing competition and evolving customer demands, leaders can no longer singlehandedly manage the bulk of tasks on their own.
The goal of delegation is to multiply yourself in ways that not only save you time but more importantly, develop the competency and capability of your team and individual team members.
At Leadership Choice, we encourage the leaders and managers that we work with to change their perception of delegation and realize that intentions are at the root of effective, high impact delegations.
Take a moment to think about your employee’s level of development and how much responsibility you believe they are ready to take on. Who needs to learn to take on a responsibility? Who is interested in doing a new task? Who is no longer challenged by what they are doing today? Who is ultimately going to take my place when I am reassigned?
You can delegate more than you think when you have the right intentions.
About the Author
Chief Learning Officer
Dave has unique capabilities in training facilitation and developmental coaching across mid-sized and global organizations. Previously, Dave was the chief learning officer with RSM McGladdrey. He also has extensive experience as a director of human resources and recruiting at Arthur Anderson, Inc. Dave has an M.S. in Instructional Technology from Utah State University.
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