Great leaders know how to delegate effectively and who to assign tasks to. But how did they learn how to do this? Is there a step-by-step way to delegate tasks so you can free up your time and empower your team? Well… Yes, but first, we have to change the way that we think.
My dad taught me an essential lesson in life that has shaped who I am today as a man. He enabled me to succeed in life no matter the challenge. In addition, he ingrained in me the value of a strong work ethic.
Growing up, I remember him dragging me to help people build things, move things, fix things, and the list goes on. I never saw him quit until the job was finished. How hard it was or how long we had to stay there was of no concern.
At first, I hated it. I spent my weekends doing hard work while my friends were going to the movies or hanging out. However, as I got older, I started seeing why this hard work was so important to my dad. I got to see the appreciation and gratitude people had for him.
This kind of work ethic is ingrained in many leaders of companies. It is a very helpful quality to have in life, especially regarding effective leadership. Starting a company from scratch, creating a new department, leading a new team, and expanding to new markets require a toughness that is tough to teach. Nine times out of ten, the grit that most leaders have will serve them well.
However, grit and determination can also be a downfall if not managed well.
People with High Grit and Determination Have Trouble Delegating.
Many times, we can be focused on working so hard that we look up 3-5 years later, and we are burned out, exhausted, and overwhelmed. We can look around and feel like we are the only ones doing everything. Guess what? We are!
However, if we want that to change, we must learn how to let others take the ball and run with it. Therefore, we must learn to let go, give up control, and delegate. It’s scary, and there are a lot of questions. What do I delegate? How do I delegate well? Who do I delegate it to?
The following is a step-by-step guide on how to effectively delegate and gain back upwards of 20 hours of your week pretty easily:
1. Create a Time Audit Worksheet to Identify Your Biggest Time Wasters.
“The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.” -Michael Altshuler
I am not a naturally organized person. When I take personality tests, my strengths are creating ideas and talking to people. That’s what makes me really good at sales and a great team player. Time management isn’t even in the top ten. I love talking to people, collaborating with coworkers, and building relationships.
In my first management position, my boss would sit down with me at the end of my first week. I updated him on where we were as a department. Then, he asked me which of my personal projects I had completed. I didn’t have an answer for him. I felt like I had been working my butt off, but I had nothing to show for it.
He challenged me to audit my time.
I had never done one before. So, I took out a piece of paper and wrote out an eight-hour day in 15-minute increments for two weeks. This was brutal because, again, I’m not a detailed person, but I forced myself to do it. Every 15 minutes, I would write down what I was doing, and after two weeks of doing that, I realized what my problem was. I was spending a lot of my days putting out fires, answering questions, getting pulled into impromptu meetings, etc.
The average manager spends 3hrs a day on unforeseen problems/interruptions – Trafft.com.
Once I realized what was taking up so much of my time, another question arose. What do I choose to do and not do?
So, step two in how to delegate effectively is to…
2. Understand the Urgency and Importance of Each Task to Determine What Needs to Be Delegated.
“Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do.” – Jessica Jackley.
Years ago, I hired a new team member. That first month, he was very enthusiastic and very busy. However, the things he was responsible for weren’t getting done. I was confused because he was always doing something and looked like he was very productive.
I had been very clear on my expectations. So, I called him into my office to see the problem. As I mentioned things that he HAD’T done, he responded with a long list of things that he HAD done.
Come to find out, he wasn’t focusing on the right tasks. He had been helping other teammates with their projects because he wanted to be a team player. He was checking his emails as soon as he got to the office. These important tasks were literally planning his day for him. To help, I showed him the Eisenhower matrix.
We talked about the importance of prioritizing your time. The above chart talks about importance vs. urgent. High-impact people have the ability to be able to know the difference between something that is urgent and not urgent/important and not important. I would suggest that you create this chart on a whiteboard or a piece of paper and use the time audit to assign them to the appropriate quadrant. This helps us understand what the most important things are right now. Also, you need to understand that other people’s importance doesn’t mean it’s important to you.
Your Crisis Isn’t My Emergency!
For instance, someone on your team may be in a hole and need some help. If you help, you will be saying “no” to something on your list. Obviously, if you have the time, you want to be a team player. But if you have a deadline you have to meet, then you probably want to decline politely.
Now that you have done an audit of your time, this can help you determine what you “need” to do versus what you can delegate. But the next problem that typically arises is, “who do I delegate to?”
3. Analyze the Strength and Potential of Your Team to Determine Who to Delegate to.
“People are not your most important asset. The right people are.” – Jim Collins
If you have led people for any amount of time, you have probably delegated something to someone, and they have dropped the ball. That is never a good feeling. For new managers, or if you are new to delegating, a common reaction would be never to delegate something again. You decide that people can’t be trusted. If you need something to be done right, you must do it yourself.
That would be a huge mistake! Just because someone dropped the ball doesn’t mean the delegation system is broken. Maybe you didn’t have clear expectations for what needed to be done. Maybe they didn’t have the necessary tools or resources to be successful. Or maybe they just weren’t the right person to take that ball.
Concerning the art of delegation, it’s important for us to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the members of your team. We have to be in tune with who has the potential to be stretched and who just doesn’t have that skill set. That will help us know who on our team will be able to handle specific tasks.
Intuition like this can come from years of experience in working with people, but you can also lean on tools like personality and strength assessments. You have probably taken lots of these, like the Myers Briggs, DISC, culture index, predictive index, etc. While the business world is saturated with these kinds of assessments, a good manager knows they are not the silver bullet but can be very useful.
Here are some helpful tips when using personality temperament tests to delegate better:
- Pick one. I have some clients who have had their teams take 10+ different assessments, their teams are overtaking tests, and there is no way you can take a deep dive into 10+ different assessments. No change will happen.
- Do something with it, don’t just have your team take the test and talk about it for half a day and never return to it. For best results, you must incorporate it into your every day. Start using the language around the office. Use it to hire new positions. Post your profile outside your door so that your coworkers know how to communicate with you better. Just USE IT! This will give you the highest returns and show how you create effective change.
Change is scary. Taking on new tasks is scary. So, in the how to delegate effectively process, validate that fear. Let them know you believe in them, and they will grow greatly.
Need some help? See the Team Assessment Workshop.
4. Address the Fear and Hesitancy of Taking on New Responsibilities.
“When the same choice is made repeatedly, the downside of trying something different is limited and fixed while the potential gains are disproportionately large. One study estimated that 47 percent of human behaviors are of this habitual variety.” – New York Times
Human beings are habitual creatures. We love to go to the same coffee shop in the mornings. Also, we like to get up at the same time. And we like to do things in the same order. We like to go to the same places for dinner because we are scared that if we pick something different, we will be disappointed.
When we ask one of our team members to try something new, the reaction is the same. They may smile and say thank you. But on the inside, they are cringing. Their internal narrative is negative and full of doubts.
“What if I mess this up?” “This could mess up my career path” “I don’t know if I can do this”
A good leader knows this is the case and addresses this upfront. Tell them you believe in them and tell them that these are new skills they need to develop!
This seems simple. But it is very effective in the delegation process and for the big picture of your organization. If your people know that you believe in them and you won’t let them fail, there is almost nothing they wouldn’t do for you.
An Example of Why Decreasing Nervousness Makes the Delegation Process Better.
The best example of this is when I got my first sales job. I worked for a large construction material subcontractor in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, if not the country. I was very green in the sales world and made a lot of mistakes in the beginning, but I knew my boss had my back. He believed in me more than anyone else had, and he saw potential in me that I didn’t even know I had. He would tell me all the time that I was going to do great things in this industry.
I had previous bosses tell me that too, so I just thought he was trying to motivate me. However, the greatest difference between him and other bosses, he backed it up with action. He didn’t just blow smoke. He really believed it and put his money where his mouth was. After only seven months of being there, I had found success, and he ended up turning over to me a lot of the top accounts our company had. I was floored and super grateful!
A great leader is someone who can find people with potential and stretch them, help them grow, but not break them. People don’t naturally stretch on their own, typically, they need some pushing.
According to Forbes Magazine only about one-third (35%) of employeesfeel inspired by their boss. So, a little encouragement when your team members feel anxious can go a long way. (You can be in that top 35%.)
For additional information see 7 Ways to Build Leaders within Your Organization.
5. Clearly Communicate Your Goals and Expectations to Delegate Effectively.
“Clear is Kind. Unclear is Unkind” – Brene Brown
Delegation is a buzzword that gets thrown around a lot that most people don’t know how to do effectively. Most people think delegation is giving their direct reports tasks so they don’t have to do them. What happens when the task is complete, who are they going to come back to? YOU, for the next task. Delegation is a lot more than assigning tasks. It’s about empowering our leaders and letting them use their talents and abilities.
Workplace communication statistics show that 86% of employees and executives cite the lack of effective collaboration and communication as the main causes of workplace failures. On the other hand, teams who communicate effectively may increase their productivity by as much as 25%.
What effective delegation looks like:
- Let them know the desired outcome that needs to happen.
- Give them guidelines (Scope, due date, etc.)
- Give them the resources (People, budget, tools, etc.)
This is why it is so important to make sure we know our employees’ strengths and weaknesses. Some people can see the big picture, and they don’t need as much direction. You can tell them the major goal that needs to happen, and they will get it done without a lot of hand-holding.
We need to give them the parameters they have to work with. If we can give them these things ahead of time, it will end up closer to your vision, and it will cut down on the questions they will come to you with.
This is the one that will really help set up this person for success. If you can give them the resources they need, it will show you several things about their potential. First, can this person lead a team? Next, can they manage projects? And finally, can they effectively use a budget?
Once you use this delegation model with the same person a couple of times, they will start to understand what needs to happen. We are coaching them not only on how to succeed at this project but help them learn how to delegate with their direct reports. If we can’t trust our team, we never should have hired them in the first place.
The next step is actually the scariest for most delegators.
6. After You Delegate Effectively, Follow Up to Show Support, Not to Micromanage.
“Micromanagement is the destroyer of momentum.” ― Miles Anthony Smith
Let me ask you a question… When we delegate a project or even a task, who is ultimately responsible for the results?
Well. We are. So, we are responsible for the end result, but we aren’t the ones doing the task. This is the biggest challenge that leaders struggle with. The job of a leader, though, is to trust, equip, and empower our team to get results.
A common way that especially newer delegators try to avoid a dropped ball is to micromanage. They certainly wouldn’t call it that. But that is how the team member feels when they are constantly checked up on and asked to submit status reports daily. We need to follow up by offering support without micromanaging the task.
An Example of Being Supportive Without Micromanaging.
I delegated a project to a young lady in our office several years ago. I did everything we discussed in the previous sections and let her do her thing. The first week, she walked into my office to debrief me on her progress. I just let her talk.
When she was done, she looked at me like she was looking for my approval. I asked her if she needed anything from me, and she said no and went back to work. The next week she did the same thing. I let her talk as I had done the previous week, and she gave me the same look for approval. I told her, “I trust you to do this!”
She looked surprised and then went back to work. The following week I stopped by her office and asked if she needed anything or help moving things forward. She said no.
Finally, the next week she handed in her project. She looked nervous as I read through it. I thanked her and told her she did a good job. She let down her guard a little and told me how surprised she was that I wasn’t hovering over her the whole time needing status updates.
She told me that I was the first boss ever that had told her they trusted her to do her work. You could tell that she had a genuine appreciation for my different approach to delegation. I let her present her project to the board, and it was approved.
So many things happened in that month. I knew she had the potential to do higher-level work. I just needed to give her the opportunity and not micromanage it.
For additional information about how to follow up and make sure communication occured, click here.
7. Giving Feedback to Encourage and Train.
Great things can happen when you don’t care who gets the credit.- Mark Twain
In the previous story, I could easily have taken her project and presented it to the board and gotten all the credit and praise. However, when she delivered the presentation, her words had more impact. She accomplished two things.
- She realized that I would recognize her when she did good work.
- The board saw that I could delegate effectively and develop leaders. They realized that my team could move our company forward.
We will be more successful as a company and as a leader if we can effectively delegate power rather than take power. However, sometimes it doesn’t work out as great as in the previous story. This is our opportunity to be able to coach and train our people to do better next time. Good delegators ensure we take time to sit down with them and explain where they could have improved.
Constructive criticism isn’t bad, it’s just how we choose to deliver it. Be patient. Give the feedback that will help them grow whether they stay at your company or not. You have impacted their lives and helped their career move forward.
For additional information about how to give positive feedback, click here.
Now What? Here Is the Practical Application of How to Delegate Effectively.
Hopefully, this information has helped you understand that we can get more done through other people. By following the above process for effective delegation, you can easily gain 20 hours a week of time back. The question now is…what are you going to do with that time? The worst thing you could do with that newfound time is to fill it with tasks that other people can do. I would suggest returning to your Eisenhower matrix and filling that time with items from quadrant #2.
These are things that are going to help you move the company, department, or team forward to reach your goals for the year. What are the things only you can do as a leader? Cast vision, set the culture, and develop leaders. Put a plan in place, and do it! Remember that delegation is a skill set that is harder in the short term but will help us out in the long run and make us better leaders.