Are you an effective Delegator-Leader?
Influential leaders can accomplish even greater things through successful delegation. Usually, when we think about delegating time as leaders, we are focused on efficiency. When leaders delegate tasks to others, they improve their effectiveness and show their team members that they trust and depend on them. Ultimately, these delegator-leaders are also accomplishing more than they could ever do alone.
Unfortunately, some managers refuse to delegate because they think the process takes too much time and effort. “It’s easier just to do it myself,” they believe; they have had negative experiences in the past or don’t want to appear as if they are dumping tasks on others. How often have you heard a leader say, “I can do it better and faster if I just do it myself.” Ineffective leaders are often afraid to delegate because authentic leadership takes skill, time, and resources. Rather than investing the time and resources in developing their staff, they take what they consider the easier road by doing it themselves.
Leaders who don’t delegate are missing out on an essential role in developing the next generation of strong leaders within your organization. Suppose your managers are not being evaluated on how well they effectively delegate to, train, and support their entire teams. In that case, they are not getting the support they need to become influential leaders themselves.
Effective delegating of projects, tasks, and responsibilities to others is perhaps the single most powerful, high-leverage activity you can do as a High-Performance Leader.
What does high leverage mean?
As leaders master effective delegating, they successfully transfer essential but low-leveraged responsibilities to other skilled people on the team. These are activities and tasks that someone else can do or be trained to do, so the manager can only focus on things they can do.
For example, an architect who draws up blueprints is responsible for a certain number of “units of work” per day, week, and month. This can be said for lawyers and public relations professionals who bill a certain number of hours a month to specific client accounts and administrative staff who support teams and individuals with specific daily tasks.
Since there are only so many hours in a day, each worker’s productivity is limited to the number of hours they spend on work. Whether you work in an office or at home, five days a week or more (or less), or 9-5 vs. flexible schedule – there are only so many hours each week to “produce” a work product.
In comparison, a high-performance leader can invest one hour in delegating and produce much more than one hour of work over the short and long-term if they empower successfully. One way to look at success is how effective the team member is at performing the job and how much “free time” the leader now has to spend on higher-level, more strategic activities.
In The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, author Steven Covey breaks delegation into two kinds: Gofer Delegation and Stewardship Delegation:
Gofer delegation means “go for this, go for that, do this, do that and tell me when it is done.” Most workers have a gofer delegation paradigm. These team members “roll up their sleeves” and get the work done. But, when given a position of supervision or management, they often still think like gofers – not high-performance leaders.
The manager who engages in Gofer Delegation hardly ever increases their leverage. Gofer Delegation often leads to reverse delegating (i.e., team members ask for help, and the manager takes the project back). These managers tell people what to do and exactly how to do it. They are often called helicopter managers or micromanagers.
Stewardship (High-Performance) Delegation
Stewardship or high-performance delegation is focused on results instead of methods. These leaders focus on the “what” (the results), allowing others to focus on the “how” it will get done. High-performance delegation helps develop team members, improving their skills and making them feel valued. It takes more time in the beginning, but it is time well invested. As leaders develop their people, they can leverage time, improve overall productivity, and strengthen employee engagement.
High-Performance (stewardship) delegation focuses on the results, not the methods. It gives team members a choice on how to get the work done and more responsibility for the results. While this may take more time initially, it’s an investment in people worth making, and the results – including increased engagement and productivity – can be dramatic.
Ten Steps to Moving from Gofer to High-Performance Delegation
- Begin with the end in mind. What are you ultimately trying to achieve (rather than how do you expect the task to be performed)? Explain the desired outcome clearly, in measurable terms: set deadlines, milestones, and checkpoints. Identify a performance standard and ask questions. Ask them to restate their understanding of the project deliverables before they begin.
- Focus on the “what,” not the “how.” Remember, you are delegating the objective, not the procedure. Giving your team members a personal choice in how they accomplish a task increases performance and engagement. Agree on a deadline, but not on the pace or detailed timeline.
- Clearly define the consequences of achievement or non-achievement for the individual, the team, and the organization. Help the team member understand the vital role they play in the organization and how this fits in. Be patient—if you have chosen the right person to delegate to and are delegating correctly, the employee will become competent and reliable, even if it initially takes longer to complete the task.
- Identify clear boundaries and establish lines of authority, responsibility, and accountability. Identify what is specifically included in the assignment and what is not. Helping team members understand the scope of the project will make them feel more comfortable about the work.
- Identify the levels of discretion and autonomy. While ultimate accountability remains with the manager, when can the employee make decisions, investigate options, and recommend solutions? How often should they report back?
- Establish expectations for clear communication. Decide on the methods (i.e., face-to-face, phone, email) and frequency (i.e., established times when pre-determined milestones are met, or as needed)—sent a clear timeframe for the manager to respond to feedback or questions consistently.
- Inform others that the delegation has occurred, especially if the employee has the authority to enlist the help of others, funds, or other resources.
- Provide the support they need to be successful (i.e., budget, staff, space) and ask them: “What can I do to support your work,” “Is there anything that might interfere with your successful completion of this project,” “Are you getting the cooperation you need?”
- Anticipate problems and help identify and fix small ones before they escalate into big ones. Brainstorm potential roadblocks or bumps which may derail the project before they begin.
- Review the work against the expectations set out upfront and only accept work that meets the previously established standards. Acknowledge good quality work and the completion of tasks and assignments. Ultimately, managers must take final accountability for the completed work.
Learn from some of our most outstanding leaders about the importance of delegating:
“An empowered organization is one in which individuals have the knowledge, skill, desire and opportunity to personally succeed in a way that leads to collective organizational success.”
“The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.”
Teach employees how to be problem solvers. Resist the temptation to tell employees what to do. In fact, resist offering advice and suggestions until you ask employees for their ideas on fixing the problem.
Effective delegating is a skill that can be developed, practiced, and mastered. Delegating is the most effective tool a company can use to accomplish more significant results, building future leaders and creating opportunities for leaders to focus on more strategic activities.
Note: Black Diamond Leadership offers workshops and coaching on Effective Delegating as part of our leadership programs.