Mastering the art of delegation in leadership (insights and tips)

 | Leadership|Teams
art of delegation

We often hear leaders say, “I’m so busy” and “I just have so much to do,” and our recommendation is always the same: delegation!

Now, we get it—delegation isn’t everyone’s favourite word. The mere thought of passing the baton to someone can stir up a bit of resistance. However, delegating tasks effectively can ease your workload and help you better achieve your company goals. It’s an essential leadership skill, alongside time management.

Unfortunately, delegation skills aren’t something we’re born with. We need to learn them. Being able to delegate effectively requires breaking down mental barriers and creating the right environment for your task-passing to succeed.

Being busy versus being productive

As a leader, do you sometimes find you’re doing too much of the day-to-day or transactional stuff? Does it feel like you’re constantly busy but still behind on accomplishing your goals?

There’s a huge difference between being busy and being productive.

Being productive is about moving the ball a few inches closer to the goal every single day. Busy people, on the other hand, tend to be over-thinkers and have an incredible ability to expand their tasks to the amount of time they have available.

Simply put, busy people tend to be great at ‘looking busy’ whereas productive people are just ‘getting it done.’ But how do you get it done? Yes, you’ve guessed it, you need to delegate!

Why don’t leaders delegate?

According to a commonly shared statistic, only 30% of managers believe they are good delegators, and only a third of them are considered one by their team.

Why do leaders struggle? Here are five common reasons you or your leaders may hesitate to delegate:

  • Fear of losing control – If you do it yourself, you do it right, right? Whereas if you give the task to someone else, they may not perform it to the same standard or make decisions you don’t agree with.
  • Lack of trust – Trust is a crucial part of delegation. If you don’t trust your team members’ abilities or commitment to the task, passing it over to them can seem impossible.
  • Desire to be the expert – Being an expert in your field can give you a strong sense of identity and satisfaction. If you give tasks away, you might feel like you lose that role as the go-to person.
  • Time to train – You may see the time and effort needed to train someone else as more of a hassle and commitment than just doing it yourself.
  • Concerns about performance – If the person you delegate to doesn’t do the job at the expected level, you may be worried this will lead to mistakes and a drop in overall team performance.

Do any of these sound familiar? Which ones concern you the most?

Short-term pain for long-term gain

All of these perceived barriers are understandable. However, the benefits of delegation are huge.

Yes, there may be teething problems in the short term as you relinquish your responsibilities to others, and people may not get it ‘right’ straight away. But when you commit to delegation, it brings long-term benefits, including:

  • Better time management – By delegating effectively, you can focus on strategic planning activities that demand your expertise. You can also allocate your time more efficiently.
  • Team development – Delegation is about empowering team members. It enables them to grow and develop new skills. It can also increase their confidence.
  • Improved team morale and motivation – When you delegate and empower team members, you demonstrate trust in their abilities, boosting engagement.
  • More creativity and innovation – Delegating tasks encourages diverse perspectives and ideas. It also promotes a culture of collaboration.
  • Greater flexibility and agility – When tasks and knowledge are shared, you can respond more effectively to changing circumstances and unexpected challenges.
  • Specialisation equals efficiency – Delegating tasks to individuals with specific skills and expertise ensures that each task is performed by the most qualified person.
  • Less leader burnout – If you try to do everything yourself, you can burn yourself out. Assigning tasks alleviates the burden and enables a better work/life balance.
  • Better succession planning – Delegation is crucial to leadership development and succession planning. It allows potential future leaders to gain experience and the skills needed for higher-level responsibilities.

These benefits of effective delegation can improve rather than hinder your organisation’s performance and future growth.

Developing a delegation strategy

Now you know why you should delegate, the big question is: how do you overcome the perceived barriers so you can start dishing out those day-to-day tasks?

Before we answer this, it’s important to highlight the difference between allocation and delegation, as which you do matters.

Allocation is more directive. It’s about getting people to complete tasks. Delegation, on the other hand, is empowering. It’s entrusting a person to a task.

Teams can feel empowered as delegation involves someone else making decisions and being held accountable, not just ‘doing’ things.

Now, back to the how. The first step is identifying tasks and deciding what you should delegate. For this, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you the only person who could do this task, or could someone else do it?
  • Does it require your specific attention for it to be successful?
  • Will delegating this work help someone learn a new skill?
  • Do you expect tasks like this to recur in the future?

Answering these questions will help you determine whether a task is delegable and whether delegating it will be beneficial.

Next, consider and map out your team members’ skills, strengths, weaknesses and interests. Then, match the tasks you have allocated as delegable and beneficial to individuals based on their capabilities and development goals.

Importantly, there are three key success factors when deciding who to delegate a task to. They must be capable, coachable and interested. So make sure they fit the bill.

Tips and strategies for success

Once you’ve successfully aligned tasks with people, you need to set up the right environment for success. Here are some musts for making it work:

  • Set clear expectations – Clearly communicate the objectives, expected outcomes, and any specific guidelines for the task. Plus, set a timeframe and deadline to create a sense of urgency and priority.
  • Provide adequate training – Make sure your team members have the necessary skills and knowledge to perform the delegated task. Offer training and resources and be available for questions.
  • Balance workloads – Avoid overloading individuals while leaving others with little to do. Make sure you distribute tasks fairly.
  • Encourage feedback – Create an open two-way communication channel and welcome feedback on the delegation process so you can make continuous improvements.
  • Foster cultural accountability – Hold each team member accountable for their responsibilities. Encourage a sense of ownership for delegated tasks.
  • Promote collaboration – Urge your team to support each other. Emphasise your shared team goals and how each person’s contribution is vital.
  • Monitor progress – When monitoring progress, establish check-in points and address any issues. Only intervene when necessary, avoid micromanaging!
  • Recognise and reward success – Last but not least, acknowledge and celebrate the achievements of individuals who successfully complete delegated tasks.

Related: The power of workplace culture: fostering team productivity and collaboration

Related: How to hold others accountable at work

Trust your team and reap the benefits      

Now that you’ve reached the end, are you ready to spread your delegation wings? We hope so. Trusting your team with the tasks you’ve tended to do yourself is a big step in your own leadership development.

Related: The importance of trust in teams (and how to fill that marble jar!)

Being productive is the core of effective leadership and every high-level achiever in the game. Whether it’s Oprah, Tony Robbins or Jeff Bezos, they’ve all mastered their time management and delegation.

Successful delegation can empower your team and enable them to learn new things and achieve your company’s strategic goals. It also has the benefit of reducing your workload and preventing burnout.

So, while we know it can be tough to let go, the wins are worth it.

Do you or your leaders love to shoulder the load? We can support them in mastering the art of delegation and going from busy to productive.  Get in touch to learn more.

Contact the Seed People Consulting team to discuss how we can support developing your diverse culture today!

Meet the author: Stacey Kelly

Stacey brings extensive industry experience and knowledge, as well as the energy, passion and inspiration of a great leader. She previously held senior people/cultures roles in private and public organisations, including Hunter TAFE and Insurance Australia Group (IAG).

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