Delegation and leadership are two concepts that go hand in hand. This is especially true if you are leading a team. In fact, a team leader who can’t or won’t delegate is almost certainly doomed to failure. Without delegation skills, leadership turns into a continual cycle of micromanaging team members. This in turn lowers productivity, stifles innovation and creative thought, is bad for morale and can be responsible for job dissatisfaction and high employee turnover.
However, when practiced correctly, the benefits of delegation can be enormous. Productivity increases, employees are encouraged to come up with creative and innovative solutions and job satisfaction means happy employees.
While effective delegation techniques are rarely taught, the good news is that delegation is a skill like any other that can be acquired.
Delegation: A Definition
Delegation can be defined as “The assignment of any authority to another person (normally from a manager to a subordinate) to carry out specific activities. It is one of the core concepts of management leadership. However, the person who delegated the work remains accountable for the outcome of the delegated work. Delegation empowers a subordinate to make decisions, i.e. it is a shifting of decision-making authority from one organizational level to a lower one”.
With that said, most entrepreneurs and managers are notoriously bad at delegating. But why?
The problem is that most managers or entrepreneurs either don’t know how to delegate effectively or they are just loath to do it because they fear the result.
Sometimes leaders think that assigning projects or tasks to employees is delegating. Most of the time what they are doing is just dumping work on the employee. Real delegation requires giving the employee responsibility for the outcome, as well as the authority needed to get the result.
Making someone responsible for an outcome without giving them the tools and authority necessary will only ensure failure. Additionally, employees and team members quickly become resentful lowering morale and productivity.
Some Other Reasons that Managers Don’t Delegate Include:
- They Think That No One Can Do the Job as Well as They Can
When thinking about this one rationally, it just does not make sense. Managers hire specific employees and team members because they bring a skill set. If the manager doesn’t use their team member’s skill set appropriately, they are under-utilizing the company’s human capitol.
Besides, a manager is not supposed to do everything themselves. That is the entire point of having a team, delegation and leadership are inseparable.
They Think It Takes Too Much Time or Effort to Train Someone
Part of leadership, especially for managers or team leaders includes training. Yes, it takes extra time to train an employee on a new task, but that’s the wrong attitude. Try to think about training as an investment.
Imagine it takes an extra hour a day to train someone to do a task, and that training lasts a week. That’s five extra hours spent doing the task. However, after the first five days of the employee doing the task, you will have freed up five hours per week to devote to other issues.
There Is a Lack of Trust in the Team Member’s Motivation
Another part of a leader’s job is to develop their employees’ abilities and skills. In short, good management requires that you evaluate each team member’s strengths and weaknesses. If you aren’t delegating there is no way to evaluate your team member’s skills, motivation and job satisfaction.
They are Afraid of Being Viewed as Dispensable
This is a personal weakness in the leader. It stems from the fear that if anyone other than the leader is recognized as doing a good job, their job / position / authority is threatened.
The truth of the matter is that by insisting that all the credit go to the manager, it leaves the high performing employee feeling unappreciated. Over time this dynamic will lead to lower morale and productivity, and that is the true threat to a manager’s position.
Good managers and leaders are notoriously difficult to come by, and so are naturally indispensable to organizations. If you’re in a leadership position and worried about your job, learn how to be a better leader.
They Enjoy Doing the Work Themselves
While a lot of people do enjoy doing the work themselves, they like the creative process or just the idea that they can control the outcome and take credit for it. Unfortunately, that’s not the job of a manager. A manager needs to evaluate a task and apply the company’s assets in a way that maximizes the effectiveness of the desired outcome.
This requires that a leader recognize and utilize the company’s human capitol in the most efficient and productive way possible. As a side benefit, giving subordinates control over the projects can often result in unexpected and innovative solutions that are beneficial to everyone.
They Feel That the Staff is Already Swamped and Don’t want to Pile on More Work.
Feeling that your staff is overloaded or overworked is common for a manager. So, giving team members more to do can feel like you are just dumping more work on them. However, when done right (more on that later), delegation can increase their motivation and job satisfaction.
Now that we’ve answered the question of what delegation is, let’s move on to the second part of the question:
Delegation and Leadership: Seven Reasons Why It’s Important
Effective delegation is one of the most important managerial skills you can have. The benefits of proper delegation are many, but if you’re still not convinced, here are the top six reasons delegation is a important managerial skill.
1. Saves Time
Let’s face it, leaders and managers are busy. There is a lot more going on than just the project at hand. Managers are often dealing with dissatisfied customers, coordinating logistics between departments as well as creating reports, dealing with staffing issues and answering to higher ups.
Being an effective delegator allows you to prioritize your tasks and spend time on the ones that are most important.
Delegating also allows managers to take on more projects at one time. When a leader has confidence in their team members skill sets and in their own ability to delegate, it allows them to take on additional duties or projects.
2. Reduces Stress
Allowing others to help you with the work load by delegating duties to them can reduce your overall stress.
People in positions leadership are under a lot of stress naturally. Managers are responsible for a lot of moving parts. Employee/staffing issues, budget constraints, time commitments, writing reports and giving updates etc…
It’s important that leaders maintain their physical and mental health. Not only for themselves, but the projects they manage require that they be at peak performance for the best result.
3. Helps Others Learn
Employee development is part of a manager’s job. In addition to the skill sets that employees bring to the table; a good leader will help them to learn new skills that can further their career. In a real sense, good leaders understand that they are training their own replacements for when they move up the corporate ladder.
Additionally, developing their skills allows the staff to be more efficient and promotes teamwork. This lets them cover for each other, and you, should there be illnesses or for any other reason.
4. Increases Profits
Increasing profits is another reason that good leaders delegate. Proper delegation uses employee resources efficiently. This means that projects get done on time and on budget.
And, let’s face it, when it comes time to negotiate raises and hand out bonuses, having a track record of bringing in projects on time and within budget makes you look rather good.
5. Improves Relationship with Team Members and Employees
By delegating the responsibility, authority and giving your employees the tools necessary to do the job, magic can happen.
Team members will take ownership of both the project and result. They will recognize that the outcome is a direct reflection on them and that stimulates an internal motivation to do well.
6. Spreads Work Out More Evenly
As a leader it’s important to spread out the workload evenly among your team members. By delegating tasks among team members, you can increase productivity for time sensitive projects. It’s also a good management technique to prevent boredom and burnout. Additionally, when employees each have plenty of duties it prevents workloads from becoming lopsided.
When workloads become uneven it can lead to resentment and job turnover, which may in turn eat away at the profits of your business.
7. Increase in Job Satisfaction
Delegating tasks or assignments to your team members allows them to take ownership and pride in their work. No one wants to be thought of as a cog in the machine, merely doing a job that anyone could do. Giving them the responsibility and authority to get the job done will go a long way towards helping them take pride in their work.
Delegation and Leadership: How to Delegate Properly
We have talked about why delegation is an important leadership tool, but as you may have noticed, we always preface it by saying “when done properly”. Below are some tips on how to use delegation appropriately. By following these guidelines, you will maximize results of your efforts in delegation and leadership.
1. Start from the Result and Move Backwards
When delegating a new responsibility to an employee, start by explaining what the outcome should look like. For example: “I’m going to put you in charge of X, and the purpose of X is to have ABC converted to DEF within two weeks and for under $100.”
In this example you have set the goals and expectations for the employee without dictating exactly how they need to accomplish the goal.
2. Give Your Employees Autonomy
This can be hard for managers, but you should try to step back and recognize that there are many ways to solve a problem. By letting them figure out their own way of doing it, they will learn, and there will often be a better outcome.
Additionally, giving your team members this level of autonomy shows them that you trust their skills and judgement enough not to micromanage them. It also gives the employee a sense of ownership over the result.
3. Give Them the Authority to Do What You Ask
This is especially important! Delegating responsibility for a task without giving them the authority needed to complete it is just dumping more work on an employee. Instead of increasing motivation and job satisfaction, you will be creating resentment and anger.
4. Match Their Personality and Skill Set
Do not give an introvert the task of running a meeting. Likewise, do not put the extrovert in charge of accounting. You should have a good idea of who your employees are and what skills they possess. Delegate the right task to the right person.
5. Make Sure They Have the Right Resources to Get the Job Done
Make sure that the people you delegate too have enough time, money, training, supplies, workspace and help from others to get the job done. If they do not have the tools necessary, then failure is not on them, it’s on you.
6. Supervise, Don’t Micromanage
The best way to do this is to establish a timeline with regular check-ins. This allows the employee autonomy while still being held accountable for the project moving forward. It also allows the employee to ask questions and receive input at regularly scheduled intervals.
7. Create a Motivating Environment
The most successful delegators are the ones that know when to be a cheerleader or coach and when to step in or step back. They are also there to celebrate the successes.
8. Be Tolerant of Mistakes
You will never have innovation without risk-taking, and you can’t have risk-taking without mistakes. Be tolerant and use mistakes as a learning tool, not as something to be afraid of.
Delegation and Leadership: Knowing What Should Be Delegated
While there are different views on what should and should not be delegated, generally we believe that a good leader will delegate everything that does not absolutely require their full attention.
Use the Six T’s to Determine What Tasks Should Be Delegated
You can safely delegate any task that meets the following criteria.
These are tasks that are so small that they seem inconsequential to tackle, but they add up. They are never important or urgent, and even if they only take a few minutes, they end up taking you out of the flow of more strategic work. For example, registering for a conference or event, adding it to your calendar, and booking the hotel and flight — on their own each of these things may not take much time, but taken together, they all add up.
Tasks that are relatively simple probably are not the best use of your time. Very straightforward tasks can (and should) be handled by anyone but you.
For example, manually inputting a 100-item list into a spreadsheet and color-coding it or updating the KPIs in your presentation deck are all simple tasks that can be handed off.
These are tasks that, although they may be important and even somewhat complex, are time-consuming and do not require you to do the initial 80% of research. You can easily step in when the task is 80% complete and give approval, oversight, and/or direction on the next steps.
These tasks, although appearing complicated at first, can be translated into a system and passed along, with you still providing quality checks and final approval.
For example, teaching one of your direct reports how to draft the presentation deck for the monthly all-hands meeting, and even how to be the one to deliver those updates to the team, can be a good way to free up time for yourself.
5. Terrible At
Tasks that fall into an area where you feel unequipped should generally be passed on to someone with strengths in that area. For example, if you aren’t sure how to organize the visual design of those PowerPoint slides for the team meeting, someone on your team will likely be able to step in.
These are tasks that are time-sensitive but compete with other priorities. There isn’t enough time to do them all at once, so you delegate an important and time-sensitive task that can be done in parallel to your other project-based deadlines.
For example, leaving your iPad on the plane after a flight and working to recover it before it goes completely missing into the airport lost and found abyss by calling customer service daily can take a lot of time and can be delegated to a subordinate.
Delegation and Leadership: What Should not Be Delegated
In contrast to the above, there are some tasks that should never be delegated and should always remain as the manager’s responsibility. Some of these include:
1. Company Vision and Mission Statements
These play an important role in the reputation of the company and should be taken as seriously as possible. Therefore, the responsibility for creating these should always lie with a manager or other company leader.
2. Hiring Decisions
Too many managers rely on outside agencies for their hiring decisions. While skill sets are important, evaluating how an employee will fit into the corporate culture is equally important, and this is best done face-to-face.
3. “On-boarding” Employees
It’s important for managers to take an active role in making new employees feel welcome. They should always be available and accessible to new employees.
Passing off disciplinary duties to an administrative assistant or HR is often a sign of poor managerial skills. Managers can generally gain more respect from employees by handling this themselves.
5. Performance Reviews
Having employees do their own reviews and just signing off on them is a disservice to everyone involved. Managers should be personally involved in this process in order to get the most out of it.
Delegation and Leadership: Conclusion
At first glance, delegation can seem like more trouble than it is worth. However, when done properly, the scope, breadth, and quality of work produced more than make up for any inconvenience.
You will be amazed at what happens when you arrange the workload so that you can focus only on the tasks with the highest priorities while others are working on meaningful and challenging assignments.
By implementing the practices we’ve talked about here, you’ll be able to delegate the right projects to the right people in the right way, and that is a recipe for success.
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