Delegation is a balancing act. You want to delegate effectively and at the same time do an appropriate amount of work yourself.
New leaders are often under the impression they must prove themselves rapidly. However, they risk burn-out if they try to do everything themselves. A sign of a great leader is enough confidence to delegate effectively.
Delegation provides opportunities for people to feel empowered, supported and encouraged. It also gives the leader a chance to dial-down overwhelm and stress by spreading the workload amongst the team.
Let me share some tips to help you improve your delegating:
Get to know the team.
If you are new to the role of leader or you have a new team don’t start making changes in the first three months. Use this time to get to know the team, understand their ways of working, preferred styles of communication etc so you can appreciate their world – before you add to it. Really get to grips with their deliverables, and understand their touchpoints with other teams, their concerns and challenges. This will pay off massively in the long run.
Share clear goals.
Be really clear about your vision and mission and share it with your team. If they understand the direction the team is going in, and the objectives that need to be achieved they will start to think about how they can contribute.
Give useful feedback.
If you can’t give useful and usable feedback it will become very challenging for you to delegate a second time. You need to give specific examples of where things went well or didn’t go so well and why. Help them articulate how they might mitigate anything that didn’t go well in the future, so that the issues melt away. Reward them, meaningfully, for their efforts. Deliver feedback that supports their career goals and identifies training and development opportunities.
If employees feel respected they will offer to help you to achieve your objectives and goals. You need to be clear about what’s in it for them. They need to know you are the kind of leader who rewards effort and will help them succeed. There’s no room for insecurity or game playing. If your team can see your vulnerable side, where you make mistakes and don’t have all the answers, they will know that you value consulting with them and leveraging their knowledge and experience when solving problems. Ultimately, they will feel respected and valued.
Enable skill sharing and enhancement.
If there is a task that needs to be done that uses a specific skill, there may be a chance to upskill a more junior member of the team. By ensuring that you have no silos (individuals with special skill sets that are potential single-point-of-failures if absent), delegating tasks across the team will upskill them and ensure that no-one, when they return from holiday etc., is faced with a pile of work, as it’s been absorbed by the team. This will create a harmonious environment where everyone knows their teammates have their backs.
Improve problem solving.
If you’re genuinely approachable and easy to work with you can build a culture of problem solving. Rather than bringing you problems to solve – ask your team to bring you solutions and ideas instead. They’ll feel empowered to figure out how to fix things before approaching you for approval to go ahead.
Consider asking a team member to lead on a project, with you as a consultant (so they don’t feel isolated). This raises their profile, makes them feel respected and gives them a specific deliverable. This can help prove that they can deliver over and above the standard job description (important in competitive corporate climates).
Explain why before how.
People need to understand why a task has to be done to understand the value they are delivering and how it fits into the bigger picture. Only then will they be able to absorb the nuts and bolts of the task. When delivering instructions for a task – start with the end in mind and be specific about the desired end result. Clearly outline the lines of accountability, responsibility and authority. Be extra clear on touch points/milestones and deadlines – get them diarised. Organise a review once the work has ended so you can give feedback (see above). Don’t be tempted to focus on how they got there, just focus on the results achieved.
By definition people don’t recognise their unconscious incompetence.
It’s really important to support them, advise them and check in with them (without micromanaging them) when completing new tasks. Agree set times to check in so that they can ask any questions they may have. There has to be a level of trust and smothering someone daily by asking them if they have completed a task yet serves no-one. Set an agreed deadline and adjust it (with mutual agreement) along the way if necessary.
Understanding your impact on others will greatly enhance your ability to delegate effectively and your listening skills. Seek to understand first, then question. Listening is the most useful skill you can cultivate. It validates the person speaking and makes them feel heard. It allows you to be a safe sounding board in the team. Ask for feedback from your team and respond to that feedback if you can, so they know you are paying attention and adapting. Let the team see how you interact with senior members of staff so you can show by example how you would like to be treated. Most leaders are followers too.
Finally, cultivate the art of persuasion. Try saying “I can see you doing X. I think you’d be really good at Y, why don’t you try it?” Your influence will spread, and your delegation will improve!
About the Author
Sam Warner is a member of Toastmasters International, a not-for-profit organisation that has provided communication and leadership skills since 1924 through a worldwide network of clubs. There are more than 400 clubs and 10,000 members in the UK and Ireland. Members follow a structured educational programme to gain skills and confidence in public and impromptu speaking, chairing meetings and time management. To find your nearest club, visit www.toastmasters.org