The Art of Delegation

Delegation. It’s the hardest thing to do as a leader, and yet it’s by far the most important.   And it’s not directing the work and asking those you lead to do certain tasks that is the hard part, it’s ensuring you actually delegate  those tasks.

To delegate successfully means you are substituting your own judgment for theirs. It means that you’re willing to give up control and accept that the task may be done in a different way to how you’d do it. It means that they don’t have to ask you first before making their own decisions as to how the work should be done, and it means that you will not override their decisions, even if you disagree. Delegation means delegating the authority to make decisions. Without the authority there is no delegation.

When delegation is done right it builds upon the environment of trust where your organization and all those within it will thrive. Importantly, when done right it creates the leaders of the future, people who have been allowed to make decisions early in their career, and not just as they reach the senior levels when all of sudden they went from having no authority to all authority. That situation is a path to disaster.

But how do you delegate successfully? How do you ensure that you provide enough information as to how you foresee the project going without micromanaging the outcome? Here is quick snapshot…

You provide guidance and delegate the task/project etc. using something that I’ve called the 4 P’s: Purpose, Project definition, Phases, and Picture.

Purpose  – What is the purpose of this project/task

Project definition – This is the actual project/task/assignment that you are giving your team. You should focus on 3 W’s; What, When, Why.

Phases – The key steps/stages you envision within the task.

Picture – paint a picture of the end state. Describe what you see and envisage in your mind.

After you’ve provided guidance using these key headings, you then need to add any coordinating details

Coordinating details give more clarity, and can include things such as:

Resources – this is probably the most important. It can include budget or other resources required to get the task done.

Team make-up – what expertise will the team be able to use? Will they have some people moved into their team for this project? How can they access this expertise?

Key timelines – these should link into the phases you described before. You may also want to include more, such as a time window for back briefs/check-ins etc.

Constraints – these are things that must happen.

Restraints – these are things that must not happen.

And that’s it. Now step back and avoid trying to add your ‘two cents’, along with these other common pitfalls:

Common pitfalls of delegating

  • You haven’t taken the time to fully understand the problem your asking your team to solve:

Often during discussions we talk about problems as though they are commonly understood, yet the definition of the problem is likely different for everyone, very different in some cases. So it’s always a good idea to stop and make sure the team collectively define the problem. This often ends up a much better, and wider understanding.

  • The information you provide lacks clarity:

Providing a lack of information and clarity is without a doubt the biggest pitfall you can make as a leader, and the reason so many end up micromanaging. Giving the correct guidance takes time and effort from you. It means you have to sit down and reflect upon what it is you’re asking your team to do. What is the actual problem that they need to solve? The time invested now is not only crucial, it is an investment that will save you time and energy later.

  • You’ve started to provide the how.
  • You haven’t taken the time early on for a check-in/back brief.
  • You don’t have subsequent, periodic check-ins.

And remember…

With this delegation, are you giving them the authority required to make decisions without having to ask you first? Only when you can answer yes to this question do you know that you have effectively delegated.

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