“The opposite of effective delegation is micromanagement.” – Wikipedia entry on delegation
The word, “delegation” is derived from Latin and means “to send from.” Think about it, you are taking the time to send the work “from” you “to” someone else. Effective delegation will not only give you more time to work on your important opportunities, but it also provides a variety of benefits to both delegator and delegatee.
One of the best ways to get others involved in your organization is through the process of delegation. But delegation can be a tricky issue for any leader.
Great delegation lies somewhere between trying to hold on to every detail – being unable to give anything away, and being completely absent and lazy – avoiding any sense of responsibility for the work of others. In that wonderful “in-between” place lies the chance to offer others expanded responsibilities…with a safety net. Delegation allows others to grow in their experience and not live in fear of failure.
What is delegation? It’s something that takes place when a leader gives someone else an opportunity to take on a task or project. The thing that makes delegation unique is that it is an opportunity that is offered, never demanded. Delegation is defined as giving others the authority to act on your behalf, accompanied with the initial responsibility and accountability for results. Student leaders have the freedom (should have the freedom) to delegate a lot of their work – but they still retain the ultimate responsibility for the completion of the work. Delegation allows one to pass on the authority necessary to complete a task or project, but the obligation to see it completed still rests on the leader’s shoulders.
People often get delegation confused with job descriptions. If a leader attempts to delegate something to someone else, that person has the right to say no. If a task or project is part of someone’s job description – it can’t really be turned down. In reality, delegated tasks or projects are typically part of the leader’s job description. The leader sees that something needs to get done and decides that the best way to accomplish it is to delegate it to someone else.
I’ve compiled a list of 27 nuggets of delegation wisdom. I hope it gets you thinking. If there’s one or two that you disagree with, give us your perspective in the comments. If you don’t delegate or don’t delegate effectively, you’re missing out on an important part of leadership.
1. Delegation helps people grow. When your people grow, you grow. It pushes you even higher in your leadership. Plus, it provides you with more time and allows you to work on projects that only you, as the leader, should be working on.
2. When you delegate, try to delegate whole projects or assignments rather than small tasks or activities.
3. Make sure the outcome you desire is clearly defined. Let your people use their creativity to reach the outcome.
4. While you’re defining the outcome, go ahead and define the extent and limits of the authority that goes along with this job. Answer questions like: What do they have the power to do or not do? How much money do can they spend?
5. If you’re the delegate instead of the delegator, do whatever you can to make your supervisor’s job easier. If you get them promoted, you might be next.
6. Make a list of all of the activities you do on a regular or routine basis. Which ones can be delegated?
7. When gauging someone’s potential, estimate higher than lower. Delegate in such a way that it will stretch a person’s capabilities. Expect them to succeed, and you will be pleasantly surprised more frequently than not.
8. If someone reports back to you with a problem with the delegated work, make sure he or she also provides you with two or three solutions to consider as well.
9. While you may want to give someone an entire project or section of responsibility, you might need to start with something smaller so that a person can prove their capabilities. Allow small success to lead to greater success.
10. All of your monitoring and measuring methods should be clearly explained and implemented at the beginning. No one likes to be surprised by evaluation. Make sure you provide clearly defined objectives and outcomes. In other words-If you can’t measure it don’t delegate it.
11. If you delegate to outcomes rather than step by step tasks you’ll be surprised at how creative people can be. Keep an open mind. There just might be a better way than the way something has previously been done.
12. Delegation isn’t getting someone to do something they were hired to do. You are asking them to take on an additional project, along with the responsibility. They have the right to say no.
13. You aren’t that good. Encourage your people to ask for parts of your job that they can add value to.
14. The downside of delegation is that it might take longer or might get done better if you do it. But leadership doesn’t take back a delegated item for that reason. Part of your leadership responsibility is helping others learn to do it better.
15. Talk about how often you’ll check in or need the person to report back to you throughout the process. Come to a well-stated agreement. Keep communication lines open.
16. Delegation strengthens your leadership. It shows you are doing your job by getting others involved and getting results with others.
17. When you delegate, you run the risk that the person will make a mistake. But people often learn the most from the mistakes they make. Leaders aren’t as upset by mistakes as much as repeated mistakes. Since we all make mistakes, help people to learn and grow from them.
18. Delegation happens most effectively when you match projects and assignments with talents and interests that fit well together.
19. People will have greater buy-in and invest more effort into a project when they feel the freedom to use their own creative energy to accomplish than if a supervisor tells them how to do it.
20. Be careful if your people try and upward delegate something to you. Make sure they’ve done the hard work necessary and thought through the issues themselves. Be sensitive if they want you to make a decision that they have responsibility for. You’re happy to advise, but not take over.
21. Are there any activities or projects that you’re working on now that someone else would be willing to do if you only asked?
22. As much as you can, “push” responsibility down in a caring, helpful way.
23. At the heart of delegation is mutual trust. You realize that you aren’t the only one capable of accomplishing the desired outcome. Place your trust in the capabilities of others.
24. Some folks may be overwhelmed by the work involved in a large project. Help them break large jobs into manageable pieces.
25. Follow up. Follow up. Follow up. Don’t hand off the project and then ask about it the day before it’s due.
26. Too often, a leader will try to step in when someone faces a problem with a delegated project. Allow others to learn for themselves. Offer suggestions when absolutely necessary. Once you’ve set the expectations, responsibility, outcomes, resources, and accountability in place – let them take action.
27. Expectations must be clear. Explain the standard of performance you are looking for so the person knows if he or she is meeting expectations.
What else? What has helped you be better at delegating?
The ability to delegate is an important trait for leaders and managers; an engineering management degree provides information on how to delegate and lead projects.
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