Delegate, Don’t Dump

 In Leaders

Recently I had the opportunity to work with a group of leaders and discuss a very specific leadership practice – delegation .  In theory, a leader who masters the skill of delegation will most certainly rise above others — the more you can accomplish with and through your team, the better.  Right?

But, let’s be clear and specific about what effective delegation looks like.  The word delegation typically implies assigning a task or project to someone else so you don’t have to do it.  That is how we use the word in our every day work life.  I will delegate this so that I can do something else.  But, in order for delegation to be effective; that is, someone else will achieve the goal and impact, there must be more!

Effective delegation enables you to develop your employees, clear your space for other priorities, and build a productive team of top performers.  But, simply getting good at assigning tasks to employees (aka “dumping”) is not enough.  The skill of delegation is a richer skill and requires several practices to be successful for you and the employee, including:

  1. Set clear expectations
  2. Determine the amount of support needed
  3. Designate specific check-in points
  4. Hold each other accountable

Set clear expectations:  Effective delegation requires a joint understanding of specific expectations.  Without the proper alignment of expectations right up front, one of two things will happen.  You will either get something that does not satisfy the need or you will paralyze an employee who does not have enough direction or idea of what you want.  In either scenario, you will have to do the work in the end anyway.  That is clearly not effective delegation.

Determine the right amount of support:  When you identified an employee for the project, did you consider what type of support and how much support the person would need to be successful?  Are they new to the task?  What is their confidence level?  Use the principles of situational leadership to get clear on how much and what type of support will be necessary.  Will the employee need access to resources?  Will they need mentorship through the process?  Or, do they need space to try things on their own before getting input?  Have a specific plan for how you will support the employee, either directly or indirectly, to ensure success.

Designate specific check-in points:  Often, the word empower gets thrown around with delegation.  To empower someone to do something does not mean you toss the task and all responsibility over the proverbial fence.  When you delegate, you can empower, but that does not mean you assign the challenge and then wait until the due date to check-in.  Designate specific and agreed upon check-in points, either by calendar or milestone.  As the leader, you are still ultimately responsible for what your team member delivers.  There can be significant risk in waiting until the end of the project.

Hold each other accountable:  Now consider holding people accountable — 80% of executives do not believe they do a stellar job.  Holding someone accountable is MUCH easier when you practice the first three steps in this process.  If there are clear expectations, the employee knows what to expect from you and vice versa, and you have designated specific check-in points, then holding each other accountable is merely following-up on those commitments.  It does not feel so much like micro-managing.  You created a plan, complete with check-in points… and now you are executing the plan.

There is great value in being a leader who effectively delegates.  You benefit when you do it well because more people on your team perform better work and your time is freed to accomplish other priorities.  Your team members benefit because they are being strategically and systematically developed in their job.  And, consistent development opportunities play a big role in employee satisfaction, engagement, and retention.

Which of these four practices do you need to improve?

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