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As we climb up the corporate ladder, a common thing I see with my clients – and certainly one of my struggles – is how difficult it is to completely delegate. This includes the actual task (or the what), methodology (or the how), as well as responsibility and the appropriate level of accountability.
To delegate is entrusting a task or responsibility to another person. I would like to emphasize that as we grow up in our careers, we want to delegate the task and the responsibility. Otherwise, we risk micromanaging, which would take much more of our time and energy rendering delegating moot.
The common reasons I hear from my clients – and I experienced some of these myself – are fear that their team may not be ready to take on more either because of lack of time, skills, or both. Another familiar cause is the inability to replace the time the task being delegated took with something else. And last but not least, is the fear of no longer being the expert or the ‘go to’ person.
As we go up in the organization ladder, our role and value also change. For example, when we started at the junior level, our value may have been to create a neat report with specific information and frequency. What we brought to the table was our attention to detail (to ensure data was accurate and format impeccable), our skills to automate or improve the report generating process (to produce it and deliver it in less time), and, in time, to give some observations about the trends.
When we become first time people managers, our value is to ensure that our direct reports meet (and sometimes exceed) expectations and goals. Our value would be on giving effective feedback, setting clear goals and expectations, and increasing motivation. For us to provide this new value well, we can no longer keep report production as part of our day-to-day activities. We delegate this entire process to the appropriate person on our team, so we could have the time and mental and emotional energy to deliver our new value.
Why is it important to delegate?
delegating is important because it allows us to increase the return on our time, bring the appropriate value to the table (what we are being paid for), and set a bigger vision and a larger strategy. We want to spend our time and energy on things only we can do – remember that this will evolve in time.
If we do not delegate or do not delegate well, our performance will suffer because we will not be able to sustain the workload in the long term. In addition, we would not benefit from having a team with diverse experience and background that could bring different ways of executing projects and tasks – since we would be doing the tasks all the time.
Another benefit is that the person receiving the task or project will grow and learn new skills. Our overall capacity to achieve bigger and bolder goals will be positively impacted by how much our team grows in expertise, competence, and capabilities.
“If you want to do a few small things right, do them yourself. If you want to do great things and make a big impact, learn to delegate.” – John C. Maxwell
How to effectively delegate
1) Delegate an end-to-end task, project, or process instead of individual components. While delegating, you can break it down in several elements to delegate in phases. At the end, the person should have ownership of the complete task, project, or process.
2) Delegate to a specific person (not to a team), at the appropriate level (may not be your direct report), and who has the right knowledge, skills, information, and motivation to take on expanded responsibilities.
3) Allocate time to help the person receiving the task or project, provide training and coaching, and make yourself available to address questions.
4) Clearly define and communicate expected results, how you are going to measure successful completion, and break down concepts into specific actions. Identify goals, controls, and boundaries pertinent to the task, project or process being delegated.
5) Provide context by explaining why this task, process, or project is important, how it supports the overall function and organizational goals, how it can help the person grow and develop, as well as the potential obstacles that could arise.
6) If what is being delegated requires collaboration from other people on or outside the team, communicate to them as well so they know that you expect them to participate.
7) Focus on the ‘what’ (the specific task, project, or process) and not the ‘how’ (methods the person will use to achieve the results). We want to motivate people to come up with their own ideas on how to execute the new work they received.
“Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.” – George S. Patton
I completed delegating, now what?
Keep in mind that the task, process, or project you delegated to your team member is new to them. It is possible that they will encounter obstacles or crossroads that they would not know how to navigate. Remember, that we want our overall team to grow in skills, knowledge, and capabilities so we want them to meet (and eventually exceed) expectations.
Enter the follow-through. This is the process of asking our team member how the task, project, or process is going. We want to be specific and ask probing questions to evaluate their level of knowledge, how they are executing, and what areas of improvement they have already identified and possibly addressed. We want to use questions such as ‘what is going better than expected?’, ‘what is the biggest risk of completing the project on time?’, or ‘what surprises have you encountered so far?’ We want to understand and proactively coach and guide our team member on potential problems without blaming.
“The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good people to do what he/she wants done, and self-restraint to keep from meddling while they do it.” – Theodore Roosevelt
As you practice delegating and following through, you will now have time to sharpen the skills and knowledge you need to operate at your best at a higher level. Focus on how you can help others do their jobs. Set the vision, mission, and strategy for your team or function. Work on improving your emotional intelligence skills such as empathy, impulse control, or listening.
I invite you to think about and jot down what you are going to delegate six months from now and to whom. Then, draft the plan on how you are going to go about it including how you are going to reallocate that time used for what you are going to delegate, and start implementing it immediately.
Delegating is an iterative process that will happen as your role, the organization priorities, or scope of work change. Like any other skill, the more you do it the easier and more natural it becomes.
What are you going to delegate first and how are you going to reallocate that time? Please, let us know in the comments. You can write in English, Spanish, Portuguese, or French.
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As a leadership coach, I enable talent to achieve bold goals with high standards. My mission is to help women transition from mid to senior level leadership positions by creating awareness, increasing emotional intelligence, and unveiling the tools and choices available to them, so they can confidently realize and fulfill their potential.