Core leadership skills: how to delegate effectively
It’s not about setting and forgetting.
What you’ll learn:
- What is delegation?
- When should you delegate at work?
- Choosing the best person for the job.
- Setting up the team for success..
- Staying in the loop, without micromanaging.
- Building team loyalty.
- The dos and don’t of delegation
One of the biggest changes when you move into a leadership role is being that one extra stage removed from a lot of the nitty gritty of the work that’s being done. For example, rather than designing marketing collateral for use in campaigns, you might be drawing up the budgets for these campaigns and providing overall strategic guidance –leaving the work to the designers.
Another word for this is delegation, and it’s something you rarely get to do until you find yourself in a leadership role. At first glance, this might seem like a relatively simple leadership skill to master – after all, you won’t be doing the work yourself. However, delegation is a skill in itself, and something that can take a while to get used to.
To get up to speed on delegating, take a look at our tips below.
What is delegation?
In a workplace context, delegation refers to a people leader giving one of their team the ownership and responsibility for delivering a specific task.
For example, if you have an overarching goal of increasing user interaction with your website, you might delegate to your design lead to conduct a review of the assets currently on site, and where they think improvements could be made.
Should you delegate as a manager, and why?
As a manager, you might worry have some concerns about delegating tasks to other people, which may include:
- Thinking someone else might not get it right: it’s natural to worry about maintaining high standards for the work your team produces, and you might be tempted to do everything yourself because you know you’ll do a good job.
- Could people think you’re being lazy?: this is another common one. Managers often worry that they need to lead by example by taking on impossibly heavy workload, and so don’t want to be seen to be piling tasks onto their teams.
- Because you think it reduces your authority: by handing this responsibility to someone else, you might feel that your own position is being somewhat undermined.
It’s perfectly legitimate to have these worries, but effective delegation is actually the sign of a good manager because:
- It allows your team to grow: if you keep all the high level tasks for yourself, and only let your team do the grunt work, they aren’t going to develop as professionals. Given the importance that staff place on learning and skill development, you’ll probably start to see team members heading for the exit if they don’t feel they’re getting skill building opportunities.
- You aren’t super human: running around trying to do everything yourself isn’t an effective way to run a team, nor is it good for your mental health. You have a team for a reason, so use them.
- You likely have specialists in your team: one of the hardest things, especially if you’re new to management, is accepting that you probably have people in your team with greater subject matter or technical expertise than you. The reason you’re in the leadership role is because you’re good at getting the best out of all these experts. Choosing to do everything yourself isn’t only going to frustrate these specialists, but could end up with a worse end product.
- It shows trust: handing over responsibility for a task to an employee is a vote of confidence in their abilities. This is a good feeling for that person, that will only serve to improve your relationship.
How to delegate work as a leader
1. Choose the right person
Some people struggle with the idea of delegation because they’re worried about giving up control. This is particularly true if you’ve recently been promoted into a leadership position and are now managing the person who’s shifted into your old role. You might well have had a way of doing things and are worried about how this new individual might interpret the tasks you set them.
It’s really important to fight the urge to peer over their shoulder, as no one likes a micro manager, and the best way to do this is by being confident in the person you’ve chosen to delegate to. This involves another core leadership skill – knowing your team. To be able to delegate a task properly, you need to consider:
- Who has the necessary skills?
- Who would enjoy the project?
- Who has sufficient bandwidth to take on the tasks right now?
- Who might really want to get involved as part of their learning and development?
You'll need to know your team in order to selet the right person.
2. Be clear about what you want to achieve, and by when
If you can’t clearly and succinctly describe the project aims, scope and deadlines, you can’t expect your team to produce the deliverables you’re hoping for.
In the first instance, you’ll want to schedule a meeting to discuss these parameters, and to allow for any questions or comments your delegates might have. However, it’s also a good idea to create a one-pager or a slide deck that can act as a point of reference or one source of truth for both you and them to refer back to as the project progresses. This way, there can be no ambiguities about peoples’ understanding of what’s required.One of the most important elements of the initial stages of delegation is setting a clear deadline. Of course, this needs to be in line with the overall departmental or business strategy, but it also needs to be reasonable so that your team doesn't feel overwhelmed.
3. Ensure the team is properly resourced
As the senior partner in the relationship with your team, it’s one of your responsibilities to ensure that they have the tools and support necessary to carry out the tasks you’re assigning them.
For example, this might involve talking to your superiors about additional funding if you need subscriptions to digital tools that you aren’t currently able to access. Equally, you might need to talk to another departmental head about borrowing some of the time and expertise from their team to help you achieve what you’re aiming for.
Importantly, this isn’t about setting and forgetting. While you should expect your team to get on with the work without constantly needing your help, you need to be on hand in case unforeseen roadblocks arise.
It's up to you to ensure your team have the tools they need to do the work.
4. Ask for updates
We’ve mentioned the dangers of becoming a micro manager, however, you don’t want to be totally detached from what’s going on. Ultimately, while you’ve delegated responsibility for the work, the buck still stops with you.As such, it’s a good idea to ask for regular updates on the project. Importantly, this doesn’t need to be a meeting, as such catch-ups tend to be a waste of time, but instead you could ask one of your delegates to put together a weekly/biweekly/monthly email that details the progress being made, what they’re currently working on, and any problems they might be experiencing. This way, you can judge for yourself if you want to take a closer look, or if there’s anything specific the team needs your guidance on.
5. Say thank you and provide feedback
As the project draws to a close, there are two essential things you need to do. Firstly, you need to acknowledge the hard work and effort that your team has put into what you asked them to do. Not only is this the polite thing to do, it also helps to deepen your bonds with your team by showing that you don’t take them for granted.
The other thing you need to do is provide feedback. Obviously, the nature of this feedback will depend to an extent on how the project went, but it’s important that you pick up on both the things that went well, as well as those that could be improved. You want to provide learning opportunities that your team can put into practice next time around, without being so negative that they feel they didn’t achieve what you wanted them to.
To provide good feedback to your team, you need to dedicate sufficient time to thoroughly reviewing it. While it can be tempting, in the middle of a busy working day, to simply tick the task off as done and move onto the next thing. it’s in everyone’s best interests that you do this – your team gets the quality feedback they deserve, and you get the peace of mind that their work has ticked all the boxes.
The dos and don’ts of delegation
- Really think about who is the best person to take on this task.
- Provide a clear explanation of what you expect.
- Set a firm deadline.
- Provide opportunities to check-in, without micromanaging.
- Ensure your team is properly resourced.
- Give thoughtful, constructive feedback.
- Say thank you at the end of the project.
- Always give these opportunities to the same person.
- Jump in and take over halfway through (unless things are going really badly).
- Pick holes in their approach just because it’s different to how you would do it.
- Hover over their shoulder throughout the project.
- Change your mind about the desired results halfway through.
- Criticise the person you delegated to in front of the team.
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