Leadership and Management Tips: Delegate Successfully

Delegation is something that gets mentioned on a lot of our training courses, so here we’re sharing with you, the 7 ‘rights’ that we believe help managers successful in delegating.

One of the most important sections of our leadership and management training courses is the section on delegation.  Yet, somehow it often feels like it’s the one that the managers in the room feel least interested in.  OK, it’s perhaps not as exciting as the different models of leadership.  Maybe a lot of leaders and managers think they’ve mastered how to delegate, but you might be surprised how many horror stories we’ve heard of badly delivered delegation.

Trusting the art of delegation

Delegation is an incredibly powerful developmental tool.  If we learning by doing, then surely it follows that our team members will learn if we let them do?  It’s also a free motivational tool, in our article on giving motivating feedback we highlighted that ownership and autonomy over a project is intrinsically linked to high levels of workplace motivation.  And that’s without mentioning that done well, delegation allows leaders to manage their workload and focus on more important things.

In our workshops, many people nod enthusiastically when we talk of the benefits of delegation to managers, staff and organisations.  Yet, a significant number of them aren’t using delegation to it’s full benefit. Take 28th American President Woodrow Wilson for example (not that’s he’s been on any of our courses you understand).  Wilson is credited with saying “I not only use the brains that I have, but all I can borrow“. Interestingly however, Wilson himself was known for working late into the night doing everything himself.   History buffs suggest that this behaviour wasn’t because Wilson didn’t trust others to do the job well enough (believe me, we hear that a lot), it was because he didn’t understand how to delegate.

So great leaders recognise (without feeling threatened or vulnerable) that they simply aren’t (and don’t need to be) good at everything.  They understand that delegation is a central part of management, but it’s still hard.  I vividly remember the knotted feeling in my stomach the first time I delegated something and my colleague proudly produced a piece of work that was nothing like the picture I had in my head.  I remember suppressing my inner control-frek and thinking ‘does this do what it needs to‘.  It wasn’t easy by any stretch of the imagination, but it was more important for my growth as a leader and my colleague’s development for me to follow my ‘eyes on, hands off‘ rule for delegation.

Training managers to delegate

Nowadays, when we deliver delegation training (after explaining the difference between delegation, abdication and dumping) we guide people through 7 steps (the things we believe you need to get right) to effective delegation.

  1. Right task – we encourage our delegates to identify what they do in an average week, what they could delegate and from the list of ‘not delegate’ – what could become delegat-able in an emergency.  The task you delegate must be something you know well enough to teach someone else, and because you’ll potentially need to teach it – the ideal things to delegate are tasks that happen regularly – that way you get a long term pay-off.
  2. Right person – people in leadership roles often delegate things to their trusted ‘right-hand man’, potentially over looking others.  First list everyone who could do it before thinking about a logical owner.  Who has the time? Who might enjoy it? Who would it be good development for?  Who has been over looked before?
  3. Right reason – we mention some of the reasons for delegating above, but before you actively delegate something you should think about why you’re doing it.  Is it because they could do it better?  Because you want to develop them?  Or because it increases the number of people in your organisation who can do the critical jobs?
  4. Right briefing – The success of many a delegation attempt  (including my first attempt) is threaten by a poor initial briefing.  Before you talk to someone, create a picture in your mind of what the finished article looks like or does.  Then describe it to them (as long as you leave them some room for creativity).  It’s also worth remembering that your delegatee might not have been on a management training course – so you might need to explain to them why you’re delegating – flex those ‘persuading leadership’ muscles!
  5. Right timings – Here’s another big common mistake.  When delegating things, managers often forget that the person receiving the task is likely to be new to it.  New to it, means slower.  It’s really good practice to ask the delegatee how long they think it might take them – and please – no delegating something that needs to be done yesterday.
  6. Right resources – What equipment, budget and SKILLS do they need to complete the task successfully.  The likelihood is they may need some training or on the job coaching to get it right.  Remember, delegation is not a quick fix time saving exercise – it’s a long-term investment that means you may need to invest time and patience in coaching through the work.
  7. Right monitoring – Time and time again we’ve heard managers complain “I could have done it quicker myself“.  Assuming they chose the right task to delegate, it can be because they adopted a problem solving position.  If your intention in delegating as a leader is to save yourself time, don’t create a relationship where your delegatee comes back to you for the answer everything there’s a decision to be made.  Coach them into understanding the work well enough to make the correct decision for themselves!

In our next feature we’ll be considering the different reactions you may get from staff after you’ve delegated it!

If you’re interested in leadership and management training workshops visit our courses page.