In my title I describe delegation as an art, which in fact, it is. It can, however, be as frustrating as it can be liberating.
There is a tight rope a leader finds themselves on: delegate too much too soon, and it may seem that you have a laissez-faire approach, delegate too little too infrequently, and you have a controlling approach. For many leaders, delegating is something they know they should do, but don’t do. And when leaders do not delegate, the organisation suffers.
Leaders are regularly challenged with identifying what tasks they can delegate, how to delegate not only a task but also responsibility, or what assignments may be opportunities for learning and advancement for their team members. They may feel that they are abandoning their responsibilities or may fear that the team member might let them down and it would reflect badly on him or her. In addition, these leaders may not have been exposed to leaders who could show them how to delegate successfully and therefore have not learnt the skills needed to do so effectively.
So, for a leader to be able to delegate effectively, they should state their objectives, understand what behaviours are keeping them back from delegating and address these concerns. Leaders who find it hard to delegate should challenge themselves to start delegating bit by bit, and try to stick with it and overcome and challenge assumptions. To begin with, the leader should try small, low risk delegation trials to see if these fears are justifiable or not.
Concurrently, team members should take on these delegated tasks in a paced manner so as to gain confidence and learn how to take on these new responsibilities.Basically, this process should be undertaken in digestible chunks so all the parties involved can build trust in a ‘safe’ manner. Once the attitude towards delegation is changed, then we need to focus on changing behaviours.
So, what is best practice and how can a leader delegate effectively?
Some people are born delegators. They involve everyone effectively and get the job done. In my experience working with a number of business leaders, I have been given the opportunity to learn what works and what does not, and I wish to share these elements with you so that you can try them out.
Choice – effective delegators choose the right person and explain why they chose that particular person to take on the task. So, they consider not only who can do the task, but also who needs to develop these skills. Who has the ability and resources? Who has shown interest or is willing to take on a challenge? Who would feel that this is a reward?
Clarity – successful delegators are particularly good at communicating the level of autonomy and responsibility a person has to deliver a task.
Motivation – successful delegators create a motivating environment. They mentor and dive in and out of the project when needed, are always available and celebrate successes, both big and small.
Mistakes are ok – they also understand that mistakes are part of the learning process and are tolerant and patient.
Outcome – time is dedicated to explaining required results in detail and explaining why the task is an important contributor to the bigger picture. Therefore, answering the following questions:
‘What are we accomplishing?’
‘Why are we doing it?’
‘What would be deemed to be a satisfactory or excellent job?’
Resources – simply put, does the team have the resources they need to do the job well? Resources can mean money, supplies, equipment and other physical items but it can also be intangible, such as skill to accomplish the job, training, time or even moral support from others.
Keeping it in check – successful delegators do not abandon their team members. They set checkpoints, timelines and set aside time for contact meetings so that they neither micromanage nor under-lead.
Creativity – they do not impose a way of working and appreciate that different team members might work differently to accomplish the same objectives. So, they encourage creative ways for team members to accomplish goals. I hope that you find these useful and that you are able to master the art of delegation. Delegating effectively will allow you to maximise and channel your resources efficiently, motivate and develop your team and ultimately grow a culture where delegation is entrenched in the way of working at your organisation.
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