How Great Leaders Actually Delegate

Great leaders delegate.

How many times have you heard your boss say, “I don’t have time to train someone to take on this task”?

Have you ever said, “I won’t let anyone else do this, because they’ll never do it right.”

Now ask yourself, what happens to leaders who fail to delegate? What’s at risk in an environment where managers don’t trust their team to do the job right and complete it on time?

To be a highly effective leader, you must remove the self-imposed roadblock of failing to delegate.
Let’s look at why leaders and managers fail to delegate. You might hear your manager say something like this:

     –  “Joe won’t do it as well as I would.”

     –  “I can’t trust Suzy to complete projects on time.”

What are the underlying fears at work in these scenarios? A few common themes that I’ve observed are:

     –  Perfectionism, or being unwilling to let work go because of the fear that it won’t be good enough

     –  The certainty that no one else can do the job as well as you (another version of perfectionism)

     –  Inability to trust another team member to keep their commitment

Now, take these fears a level deeper. Let’s pretend that you did let go of a project. You delegated the project to Joe. As you suspected, Joe’s slow pace delayed the project and pushed the deadline. Now what?

Did this delay cause your company to lose a client? Did you hear a complaint from the client? If you begin with small steps and help Joe build his confidence and competency, the possibility exists he would master the task. Not only that, but Joe might come up with some terrific ideas that would improve such projects from now on.

So what is the real fear, then?

In conversation after conversation with clients, I’ve learned that some fears are universal. We are afraid of looking stupid. We fear failure. We fear rejection. That is part of being human.

By learning to face and manage those universal fears, you are freed up to become a better leader.

Here are some guidelines to get you started on building world-class delegation skills:

  1. Hire people you can trust. By this I mean, get to know their values set, which is something you can’t teach. Look for evidence of integrity, strong initiative, a desire to learn and expand skills, and a customer-centric attitude.
  2. Set clear expectations. Communicate the top three objectives of the job. Set up a process for verifying that your understanding and their understanding is the same.
  3. Manage outcomes, not details. If you need to start with small tasks to minimize costly errors, then do so. Get the input and agreement of your team on how success is measured and ideas on how and when to expand tasks and roles.
  4. Set meaningful milestones. Decide together on reasonable interim goals. Establish effective ways to communicate progress and breakdowns.
  5. Prepare for obstacles. Find out how well your team members are prepared to deal with setbacks and hurdles. Do they have a plan? Would they perform better with additional resources or training? Do they know when and how to escalate issues?
  6. Hold your team accountable. What happens if deadlines are missed? What are the consequences of producing poor quality? How will you reward success?

“Most skills can be learned, but it is difficult to train people on their personality.”
~ Richard Branson

According to Richard Branson, transferable skills are essential. Hiring team players who take the initiative is important but intrinsically challenging to teach. That’s why the first step in this list is hiring people you can trust.

Great leaders hire people they can develop. Then they set the stage for learning and increasing levels of responsibility and impact, so they have the next generation of leaders in place.