Find Freedom in the Art of Delegation

Do you have difficulty delegating work to others, or feel dissatisfied when you do? Are you drowning in too many things but have trouble trusting others to do the work? Do you feel the need to keep a close eye on projects you delegate? You may have something to learn about how to delegate.

graphic: 11 tips for successful delegation

One study showed that only 30% of managers believe they delegate well, but of those, two in three of the people to whom they delegate disagree with that self-assessment. This suggests that only about one in 10 managers know how to delegate successfully in a way that empowers others.

There’s actually an art to successful hand-offs, and it takes more planning and communication than you might think. Our new tool by Robert Gass, The Art of Delegating, will teach you who to delegate to, how to avoid the common pitfalls, and offer 11 best practices to delegate well.

Learning to delegate well is an absolute requirement for our own sustainable workload. But equally important — delegating important tasks to your people is critical to their development. New assignments are an opportunity for your colleagues to learn and develop new skills, to shine and advance in their own leadership.

Here are 11 things you can do to ensure that when you’re passing tasks to others, you’re setting them — and yourself — up for success. The following list is just an intro. If these ring true check out our new complete guide, The Art of Delegating.

  1. Deal with any ambivalence before handing off. Many leaders carry a lack of trust, a fear of being replaced, perfectionism, or impatience into the delegation process.
  1. Establish Clear Expectations. A hand-off should always make the following completely clear:
  • Purpose/context
  • Standards by which the completed task will be judged
  • Process requirements for how the task is to be conducted
  • Delivery date
  1. When possible, delegate complete tasks rather than pieces of a task.  This tends to create greater ownership and engagement while reducing the delegatee’s need to keep checking back with you, and vice versa.
  1. Delegate the goal not the process. People need to have latitude to accomplish goals in the way they think is best. If you do have specific process requirements, be clear about them up front (but think first about whether they are truly necessary to dictate).
  1. Delegate adequate authority along with the task. This may require appropriate positioning, i.e. making it clear to relevant parties that this person has the authority. Also, make it very clear if there are limits to the scope of decision-making (e.g. check with me if…)
  1. Provide adequate resources and support. Be proactive to ensure the conditions for success are present, rather than waiting for slow-downs or breakdowns to intervene.
  1. Check for understanding and buy-in. Just saying what you want is not sufficient. Make sure the hand-off is received – that you and the person receiving the assignment actually share the same understanding of the task, and that the delegatee is aligned and committed to its success.
  1. Anticipate pitfalls. Together, think and talk through potential challenges and roadblocks before they happen, and what may be required to address them.
  1. Establish check-ins. You need to find the right balance of allowing autonomy and appropriate monitoring, which will vary depending on the nature of the task, your level of confidence in the delegatee, and their needs and requests. Identify and agree on key milestones and scheduled check-ins in advance.
  1. Be prepared to let people make mistakes. You should often be delegating tasks that are growth opportunities for your people. Encourage delegatees to learn from their missteps, as this is fundamental to developing new skills. Your check-ins and limits on the scope of decision-making are your safeguards against mistakes that might cause unacceptable harm.
  1. Be prepared to offer acknowledgement and credit. Be generous in your appreciation. Studies have shown that the number one reason people leave their jobs is a lack of recognition and praise. Also, make sure that people get appropriate credit within the organization for the tasks that you delegate.

“The first rule of management is delegation. Don’t try and do everything yourself because you can’t.” – Anthea Turner

Download our new five-page guide, The Art of Delegating to learn more about reducing your workload while developing the talent and capacity of your team.