Learn to Delegate Effectively

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Digital Library > Building and Inspiring an Organization > Delegation of authority"Learn to Delegate Effectively"

Don't do anything that doesn't absolutely need to be done by you. Delegating effectively is one of the hallmarks of good business leadership.

OVERVIEW [top]

Through delegating, you recruit help to get certain tasks done. Delegating shouldn't be a matter of "dumping" hated tasks on others. Rather, it can be a key management strategy that can profoundly benefit you, your company and your employees.

Delegating effectively requires sharp judgment calls on your part. You need to know when to let others share responsibility for a task, and when to retain that responsibility. You also need to provide the level of support that allows people to complete their delegated tasks successfully.

In this Quick-Read you will find:

  • Reasons for delegating.
  • Tips for delegating to the right people.
  • Kinds of tasks you should — and shouldn't — delegate.

SOLUTION [top]

Reasons for delegating

Delegating can be tough for high-achievers accustomed to taking on a heavy workload. So why should you delegate?

  • You can't always do it all yourself. By delegating, you reduce the risk that you'll burn out or that important tasks will slip through the cracks.

  • It's simply not true that you can always do it better yourself. You hire people for their expertise in certain areas; let them use it.

  • It's not always easier to do it yourself. When you prepare people properly, most can be trusted to handle delegated tasks the way you expect.

  • Delegating is a great way to train future replacements.
Consider also that delegating leaves you more time and energy to handle key management tasks such as planning, decision-making and employee and systems development. Employees to whom you delegate tasks have a chance to grow professionally by taking on new challenges and learning additional skills.

Selecting the right person for the task

  • Choose people who have the skills and ability to meet your expectations; make sure they have at least some experience handling similar tasks.

  • Verify that they have enough time to handle the work. Some people will say, "Sure, I'd love to do it," even though they're already overbooked. It's possible they're just afraid to say no to you.

  • Delegate to people you're trying to help advance professionally. They stand to gain both experience and exposure, while you get to assess their performance.

  • Choose people who are enthusiastic and committed. They're the ones who will come through for you by completing the task — and doing it right.

What you shouldn't delegate

  • Responsibility for helping develop your company's mission, goals and vision.

  • Jobs that only you have the knowledge, expertise and authority to handle.

  • Tasks that have been specifically assigned to you by a higher authority within the organization.

  • Leadership responsibilities for which you are directly accountable.

  • Tasks that would allow unnecessary access to proprietary data, confidential information or secret processes that would interest the competition.

What you should delegate

  • Routine tasks that are done daily, weekly or monthly.

  • Detail work that requires close attention but no special skill (for example, double-checking figures).

  • Tasks that don't require your decision-making input.

  • Attendance at regular meetings where another individual could easily represent you and later provide you with a summary.

  • Information gathering through books, reports, newspapers, magazines or Internet searches.

  • Tasks that another individual could do just as well as you can.

  • Work that will challenge employees and hone their skills.

  • Tasks that others can do better than you, either because they really enjoy the work or have special knowledge or expertise.

REAL-LIFE EXAMPLE [top]

Kathy Schaeffer, president of the public relations firm Kathy Schaeffer & Associates in Chicago, gives even key responsibilities to employees she trusts. "Sometimes an employee is just better at something than you are and could do a better job than you," Schaeffer says.

"I have one staff member who's unflappable in a crisis," Schaeffer notes. "I assigned her to a client who had 60 Minutes breathing down their necks. They were worried about how to present themselves to the media. I delegated to her the creation and carrying out of a crisis communication plan with the client. She did a fabulous job."

Schaeffer says she always did "as much of the work as possible" when her company was young. But after five years of strong growth, she delegates a great deal, "so that I can focus more on generating new business."

When Schaeffer delegates, she gives employees the authority they need to do the job. She instills confidence and motivation by telling them, "I want you to take the ball and run with it. I'd rather you make mistakes than play it too safe."

The result is a big professional boost to employees. "My people put so much creative energy into a project I delegate," Schaeffer says, "that it's a great growing experience for them."

DO IT [top]

  1. When delegating a task, tell the employee exactly what you need done. Specify a deadline and the end results you want. For example, "I expect the report to be absolutely error-free after you've proofread it." Set a schedule for regular progress updates on the project.

  2. Explain why the task must be done and sketch the big picture. For example, "You'll bring a fresh eye that will pick up errors quickly. We need error-free reports to maintain our credibility with investors."

  3. Indicate how you plan to measure the success of the completed task. For example, completion means the team can move on to the next step of a special project.

  4. Give employees the authority they need to complete a delegated task. Don't second-guess them, and don't let other employees interfere either.

  5. Provide whatever support is needed, including training, equipment and advice. Ask employees directly what resources they need to do the work.

  6. Don't jump in and do a task just because you can finish it quickly. Instead, teach your employees how to do it faster. Too much interference from you might convince your employees that you don't trust them with the work.

  7. Be patient. It may take a little time for people to feel confident in their ability to handle work you delegate. Help ensure their success by being fair and supportive.

RESOURCES [top]

Books

Managing for Dummies, 2nd edition, by Bob Nelson, Peter Economy & Ken Blanchard (For Dummies, 2003). Chapter 2, "Delegation," offers useful advice.

Empowering Employees Through Delegation by Robert M. Nelson (Irwin Professional Pub., 1993).


Internet

How to Delegate

How to Delegate Work and Responsibilities (Tips)

Never Do What You Can Delegate

Get a Life!


Article Contributors

Writer: Kathleen Conroy

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