“If I want something done right, I have to do it myself.”

Sound familiar? I hear this all the time from managers. But, as leaders, it’s our job to get things done through others. And, that requires us to delegate.

Managers struggle with this big time. Since many managers were once strong individual contributors, and promoted to management because they themselves executed well, it makes sense. It’s a completely different skill to do something yourself versus influence a team to do something well. I often hear from clients that they wish they could get their managers to focus on more important projects or goals, but managers do not have the time. That high dollar labor should be focused on critically important tasks, and influencing others to achieve the other tasks. But, often, managers roll up their sleeves and do the work alongside their employees, which is not the best use of their time.

Managers like control

Take a minute to think about how often you delegate. What’s keeping you from doing it more? The answer I commonly hear is a perceived loss of control. It’s a feeling of being needed. A sense of accomplishment of getting the job done. But, leaders have to delegate to get all of the work done.

What if you could free up some precious management time by delegating some of those less critical tasks to your team? The result is increased productivity as the workload is balanced, and higher engagement as the team is being challenged to grow.

Delegation does not mean that the leader does not help the team when necessary. A good leader is there for the team when needed. A good leader does not, however, do all of the work for the team. Good leaders are like air traffic control – they do not have to be the Top Gun. They put their team in position to be successful and coach them to success. To develop this skill set, it is important to choose the right tasks to delegate, match the appropriate skill and will to the task, and get out of the way.

Delegate the right tasks

Good leaders focus on critical tasks. For those less critical tasks, delegation is a great tool to increase productivity. Whatever your to-do list process involves, I encourage you to think about a few questions when you do it. This will help you better determine if you are truly the right person to get the job done, or if it could be a good delegation candidate. For those less critical tasks, a few good questions are:
• Do any other team members know how to do this well?
• Could any team members learn how to do this well?
• Do any team members know how to do something similar to this?
• Does this task need to be done more often in relation to other tasks?
• Have any team members asked to learn how to do this?
• Could learning this task help a team members’ development plan?

The more yeses you have, the more likely it is to be a good task to delegate. It may take some time up front to develop a plan to delegate the task rather than do it yourself, but consider it an investment. Especially those tasks that need to be done often – it saves far more time long term.

Match skill and will

Once you have a list of tasks that you have chosen to delegate, it is important to think about who to delegate the tasks to. A good leader sets the team up for success. There are two factors to consider when delegating to a team member – skill and will. Of the questions you just asked yourself, the first three were skill related, and the others were will related.

Skill can be a demonstrated ability to do the task already, the ability to learn how to do the task, or it could be a demonstrated similar skill that is transferable to the skill needed for this task. Recognition of transferable skills is not obvious. For complex tasks, think about it – when have you seen this team member do something similar to this well? If you cannot think of a time, it might be too soon to delegate.

Will is the level of interest of the team member. We all naturally gravitate to certain types of work. Some team members prefer hands on activities, others like analytical number crunching, some prefer to work with a team. Know your team well, and match them to the tasks that they are naturally drawn to when possible. Ask yourself – what reaction can you expect from this team member when you delegate this task to them? If you visualize a smile, go for it.

Get out of the way

This step requires a little agility – a dance if you will. While you need to be available to your team, you have to get out of the way for this to work. Have you ever had a manager delegate a task to you, then instantly step back in and question your decisions? It feels awful. Like you somehow failed when you were not even given a chance to succeed.

Good leaders check in. They provide coaching and feedback as the team member learns how to do the task well. Or, better yet, they provide mentors or buddies to help along the way. A safety net to rely on when they stumble. But, they let go of the control.

I heard a good story about this recently. A leader had delegated a task to her team and noticed a few defects. Instead of confronting her team, she pretended to work on something nearby to observe her team. Then, instead of pointing out exactly what they were doing wrong, she asked questions to help the team self-discover the reason for the defects. She then shared some pointers in a casual, trusting approach. The team never made the same mistake, and is taking on more challenging tasks as a result.

One more story to drive this important point home. I recently heard a leader telling his team leader – “No matter what, I have your back. I trust you. As long as you know why you made the decision, I will not question it”. That team leader attributes a higher level of confidence and the ability to make sound decisions as result. Trust and delegation are powerful engagement tools.

Ask yourself, what’s preventing you from getting out of the way?

Delegation helps leaders be more effective with their limited time. A good leader does not need to be involved in all of the decisions. It’s exhausting, and not an efficient use of high dollar labor. Leaders that delegate notice higher productivity and stronger engagement on their teams, and better business results.

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