Leadership Matters | Fall 2023
How to Become a Better Delegator
Here’s how to enhance your leadership skills and elevate your team by using more effective delegation skills.
Jon Lokhorst, CPA, CSP, PCC
Leadership Coach, Your Best Leadership LLC
“I’m terrible at delegation,” said an emerging leader in one of my recent leadership development programs. At least she was honest. Many leaders are in denial about their delegation skills—they think they delegate well, but their team members would tell you otherwise.
The problem is, ineffective delegation is a leadership limiter. Leaders who don’t effectively delegate end up performing tasks that would be better handled by other team members, taking valuable time from crucial leadership functions like strategic thinking, critical problem solving, and staff development. Leaders who don’t delegate also stunt their team members’ growth, keeping them from developing essential skills.
To elevate your delegation skills, you must eliminate the barriers getting in your way. Only then can you develop a clear plan to help you become a more consistent delegator.
ELIMINATE THESE BARRIERS
Whether you say them out loud or silently to yourself, these common statements are barriers that prevent you from elevating your delegation skills.
- “I can do it better myself” or “I can do it faster myself.” If you feel like these near-identical statements are almost always true, they’ll always be that way if you continue to hang on to tasks that could be delegated. Break the cycle by recognizing the value of having team members gain the experience needed to become as good and fast as you in completing those tasks. Who knows, they might eventually become better and quicker than you. And, even if your team members only get to 80% of your speed and expertise, it still frees you to focus on activities more suitable for your leadership role.
- “I don’t have time to teach them how to do it.” This statement is shortsighted. It denies the return on investment (ROI) of your upfront time to teach one of your team members skills they’ll inevitably need and that your team can benefit from. For example, in one coaching session, a client performed a ROI calculation on the time required to teach and coach one of his team members to take over a routine weekly report. He learned that within six to eight weeks, he would recoup his upfront investment of time, freeing up nearly an entire afternoon every week.
- “If I delegate too much, I won’t have enough work to do.” Unless your team is a well-oiled machine with no room for process improvement, all your customers or clients are solid, and your staff development is pristine, this statement is false. Arguably, in my experience, there are countless opportunities to focus on value-added activities that’ll expand your leadership and benefit your organization. In other words, there’s always plenty of work for effective leaders to do.
DEVELOP A CLEAR PLAN
Once you’re ready to break through these barriers, you can start developing a plan for more effective delegation. I recommend following these seven steps:
- Plan ahead. If you wait until the last minute to consider delegating a task, you’re likelier to ditch that idea and do the job yourself. Watch your calendar for upcoming projects that’ll work well for potential delegation opportunities. This will allow enough time for the delegation process to take shape. Encourage your team to do the same as they become familiar with recurring projects and workflow.
- Define the task. Before picking who you’ll delegate the task to, be sure you’ve clearly defined it. It’s crucial to know your deadline, desired outcome, and the steps needed to get there to set your team members up for success. Also, consider breaking larger projects into smaller chunks and whether sharing them among multiple team members is better.
- Pick the right person. Ensure the team member has the right skills and experience for the job, in addition to the capacity to complete the task based on your deadline and their workload. At the same time, don’t limit your options by choosing your typical go-to team members or star players. Consider whether the project is a viable stretch assignment to help someone else grow and expand their capabilities.
- Clarify your expectations. Help your team member see what constitutes success for the project, spelling out the desired outcome and deadline. Explain the sequence and execution of tasks to the extent that there’s a singular or limited path to your desired outcome. Then, invite your team member to creatively think about how the job can be completed successfully using an alternative path.
- Confirm their understanding. Don’t hand off the task or project without confirming their understanding of what’s needed is consistent with yours. Begin by simply asking them to describe the project to you. Then, ask about the areas they have questions on or where they anticipate potential sticking points as they proceed.
- Offer resources. Let your team member know where to go for help when needed. That could be in the form of prior year files, similar projects for other departments or clients, professional literature, other staff, etc. Encourage resourcefulness while providing guidance on how long you want the team member to struggle on their own before seeking help.
- Follow up on progress. Ask your team member to provide status reports on their progress with the project. Additionally, schedule reminders on your calendar to follow up in case they drop the ball. The frequency of these check-ins will vary depending on the complexity of the task and the team member’s experience level. Identifying problems midstream will enable you to avoid negative surprises and redirect efforts as needed.
Like most leadership skills, it’s easy to respond to the call for better delegation by deciding you’ll “try harder.” Instead, be more specific—what does better delegation look like to you? Perhaps your next step is to schedule a recurring calendar block to plan for delegation, or maybe you can invite your team members to approach you for opportunities to take on tasks you’ve typically done yourself. For the next 30 days, practice delegating to elevate you and your team, assess progress, and reset your intentions for the next 30 days. If you build this cycle into your routine, you’ll find yourself saying you’re excellent at delegating during your next leadership development program.