Delegating Like a Pro

Effective leaders and managers delegate. Period.

It might seem obvious; however, in my experience, many either don’t delegate or do so ineffectively. Why? There are two main reasons.

First, we find it challenging to let go of tasks we used to deliver. As individual performers, we are rewarded for doing the work. As managers, we are rewarded for how well our team does the work. While this shift makes sense intellectually, it doesn’t always translate emotionally. Second, most managers and leaders were never given the necessary tools but were expected to “figure it out along the way.” This trial-and-error process can be deadly to productivity, career development, and overall team success.

This post provides solutions to both dilemmas and offers secrets to delegating “like a pro.” Before we dive into these skills, however, make sure to read and complete the steps in the Prioritizing Like a Pro post. In order to apply the steps to effective delegation, you must first master prioritization.

Let’s conduct three quick pulse checks before exploring into the steps.

Pulse Check 1: Delegation “Head Trash”
It’s easy to make excuses for not delegating and instead falling prey to “delegation head trash.”

 Complete these statements:

  • I can’t delegate because___________________________________________________________________
  • I need to get involved because _________________________________________________
  • I don’t address delegation mishaps or excuses because _____________________________

These common excuses prevent us from delegating. If we wear the hats of manager or leader and don’t delegate, we fail to do our job. If you insist on doing everything yourself, you should ask for a demotion, and return to being an individual contributor.

Assuming you prefer to keep your leadership job, let’s dive into your delegation strengths and weaknesses.

Pulse Check 2: Delegation Strengths and Weaknesses
These are behaviors or attitudes that help (or hurt) your delegation success.

Consider these questions:

  • What are your delegation strengths? How can you use them more often to activate your team?
  • What delegation weaknesses hold you and the team back? What action steps can you take to ensure these weaknesses don’t derail your team’s success?

Pulse Check 3: To delegate or not? That’s the question
Some delegated tasks yield powerful results, while others either are not worth it or shouldn’t be delegated.

Consider these questions:

  • What activities (if delegated) could save you at least one hour or more?
  • What activities can’t or shouldn’t you delegate?

Armed with your new awareness, let’s get tactical and start delegating.

Assuming you have identified your to-dos and sorted your list, these steps can help you delegate with style.

Step 1: Set aside five minutes each day to review your to-do list and select one task to delegate. Most managers forget to set aside time to plan delegation. This is the deadliest of delegation pitfalls. If you tend to “delegate on the fly,” you are likely causing unnecessary confusion or chaos. It’s better not to delegate than to delegate carelessly. If you are able to take one task off your to-do list and give it to someone else, you’ve immediately multiplied your productivity.

Step 2: Selecting the right person to whom to delegate. Consider the person’s natural strengths and motivators. Who is likely to do the job with minimum effort and maximum excitement or energy? Next, review the team’s workload. Avoid dumping work on high performers simply because they “always” get it done (doing so can result in burnout). Consider who would benefit from learning a new task or working with a particular department. When done well, effective delegation can be a powerful career booster for team members.

Step 3: Assign SMART tasks. If you are unfamiliar with this phrase, the SMART Goals and Actions: Strategies for Delivering Results blog will help you dive deeper. Ultimately, it’s your responsibility to ensure delegated activities are unambiguous and crystal-clear. Ask yourself, “If I assigned this to someone who doesn’t know how to do this job, would they understand what I’m asking?”

Step 4: Set check-ins, due dates, and drop deadlines. To learn more about these concepts, read Check-ins, Due Dates, and Drop Deadlines. Once you’ve delegated an activity, immediately set a check-in date. At the check-in, ask the person to whom you delegated to provide relevant updates or report on progress. This enables you to reprioritize, or correct the course, and still meet the due date deliverables. Think of the drop deadline as your “personal due date.” This is when an activity you delegated must be completed. Avoid sharing your drop deadline (unless it’s already a well-known date) to avoid due date “scope creep.”

Step 5: Share your delegation standards and expectations. Each person has a different expectation or standard for delegated activities. Consider taking an audit of your delegation effectiveness, and check how clear you are about your standards and expectations.

Effective delegation (like most other management or leadership skills) takes practice. If delegated activities come back different from what you expected, immediately review and course correct. Don’t be afraid to zap excuses or fine-tune approaches.

The more clear and direct you are, the more valuable the delegated results will be—for you and the team.