How to Delegate Effectively

[Excerpt from The Ordinary Leader]

I believe that knowing what to delegate begins with clarity about what not to delegate. Leaders need to focus their energy on those tasks that are most essential to the organization – those areas that would suffer if it were not for their leadership.

Ask yourself, “What does my organization need me to do most? What do I do that is essential to the organization?” The answers to these questions are likely the things that only you can do, or that you do exceedingly better than anyone else could.

For me, the answer to this question is marketing. I have always led our marketing efforts. While others could try to replicate what I do, delegating that responsibility to someone else would come with too great a risk at this stage in our organization. There are certain nuances to our marketing success that I understand, which are difficult to articulate to someone else.

Once you have named the tasks that are essential for you to do, consider whether you are spending enough time doing them. Are you giving them the effort and energy required, or are you distracted by other things on your list? Focus only on what is important for you to do, and give the rest away.

The List

Create a list – anything that doesn’t need to be done by you personally for the success of the organization is fair game. Put it all on the chopping block. If it is not crucial that you do it, and it is taking time away from what you need to do, give it up and pass it on to someone else.

Here are some questions to consider when determining what to delegate:

  • What’s been on your list for a long time and keeps getting moved to next week’s task list?
  • What tasks on the list cause you the most frustration?
  • What causes you the most boredom?
  • What tasks on your list are low-importance activities for you?

Start by delegating these things. Be sure to consider whether each task is something that actually can be delegated. There may be some items on your list that cause frustration or boredom, but you can’t delegate them due to issues of privacy, or the fact that only you as a senior leader can do them.

Once you have delegated tasks from this list you will notice a difference. You will be freer, sharper, and more motivated. In fact, the process can be contagious; you will likely find yourself whittling down your list even further, giving you even more time to focus on what is essential.

The Specifics of Delegation

Delegation happens when leaders assign the responsibility, authority, and accountability for a clearly defined task to someone else – a task changes hands. Responsibility relates to how the task will be completed. Authority refers to the control given to someone to act and make decisions related to the task. Accountability relates to being answerable for the decisions, actions, and results related to completing the task.

Once you have determined what can be delegated, consider who the tasks should be given to. Delegation works best when we give tasks to competent people who have demonstrated their abilities in areas related to the task. For those who have not yet proven themselves, start with easy tasks and increase to difficult ones gradually over time. You want people to stretch and grow, but not at the risk of significant failure.

 Delegation works best when we give tasks to competent people who have demonstrated their abilities in areas related to the task.

Begin with the end in mind by clearly articulating your desired results to the employee. When people are unclear about a desired task outcome, they will often underperform rather than risk making a mistake. When clarifying task specifics, be sure to focus on the final result, not the how to part. Offer general suggestions on how they might proceed, but be clear that they are in charge of how the tasks are accomplished.

Remember to also clearly define the owner of the task. When possible, delegate the whole task, not just part of it. If you delegate just part of the task, you risk confusion about who owns it.

Be Available

When we delegate, we must remain available as a resource. It is natural for leaders to become frustrated with employees who don’t complete tasks that have been assigned to them. However, sometimes in these circumstances, employees need approval to proceed or access to resources, but the leader is not available to answer requests and progress gets derailed.

We as leaders must be available to help our staff succeed. The work I do regularly takes me away from the office. When I return to the office after being gone for a few days, I know there will be a lineup of people needing approval and wanting direction from me on a variety of items that have been delegated to them.

I don’t resent this. It’s part of my role as a leader. My employees know that if they have questions or problems they can come and see me. I am available.


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Randy Grieser, Author & Speaker

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