The Fine Art of Delegation

Whether you’re a business owner or you’re in a leadership position in a company, delegation is an essential skill to master. But why?

First, it’s going to be essential for your own time management to be able to delegate tasks to others. In your role, you’re just going to get busier. You need to concentrate on the tasks that require your special expertise. If you’re working at night, taking work home and/or working on the weekends, chances are that you need some help to preserve your sanity, your health — and probably your relationship with your significant other.

Second, delegation is a way to help others in your organization broaden their skill sets. How are you going to develop future leaders if you don’t give them the experiences they need to grow in their careers?

Some of you may have a personality style that makes letting go difficult. It’s likely you say, “It’s just easier to do it myself” or “Nobody can do it right — the way I want it done!” But you need to ask yourself, “What is the very best use of my time?” It’s probably not making copies, sending out faxes, inputting routine data into a system, doing bookkeeping, answering the phone every time it rings, scheduling — well, you get the idea.

Let’s say that you’re convinced that it would be a good idea for you to learn to delegate. How do you start?

First, take a couple of days and record all of your various tasks. Then go through the list and highlight any that absolutely require you do them — either because you’re the only one with the expertise, it’s an essential part of your job description, or there’s some regulatory requirement that insists that the job be done only by you. These are tasks that you’re definitely not going to delegate.

Next, look through the rest of the list and put a star by any task that you find boring or otherwise dislike. What are the things you procrastinate on? It’s a no-brainer to delegate these!

Now ask your direct reports, team members or the people you work closely with what they see you doing that they would like to know more about for their own career development. In other words, invite them to take charge of their own careers by allowing you to begin mentoring them on tasks they are 1) interested in or 2) they feel represent a weak area that needs strengthening. In this way, you encourage their professional development while freeing yourself up to do more of the things that you want or need to do for your own success.

Don’t forget to ask your secretary or support persons this important question:”What do you see me doing that makes you say to yourself,”Why on earth is she doing that when (name) would be the more appropriate person to do it?'” Receptionists and secretaries usually hit the nail on the head when they are given permission to tell you what they see you doing that is not part of your role.

Once you’ve created a list of items that you’re going to delegate — and figured out who you’re going to delegate them to — there are a few ground rules that will help you be successful. If you simply assign someone a task with only a brief explanation and without a specific follow-up process, chances are the person will come back with something that doesn’t begin to meet your expectations. While this gives you a great opportunity to say to yourself, “See, I knew I should do this instead of relying on someone else,” what you’ve really done is “dumped” rather than delegated.

It’s short-changing the other person not to give her a thorough explanation of exactly what it is you want done; you’ve set her up for probable failure. It’s also very important to set up an accountability process. If the job is very new to someone you’ve delegated the work to, you may want her to check in with you on a daily basis. If you’ve given a job to someone you know has experience in that area and always meets deadlines, you can say something like “Just check in with me if you run into any problems.”

One more thing: You’ll want to be sure to determine a deadline for the task or, in the case of a big project, a deadline for each of the steps along the way. Deadlines can be changed, if necessary, but having them increases the level of commitment and provides a ready structure for tracking and accountability.

After all, you are still the person responsible for the end result. You want to ensure success both for yourself and for the other person.

Judi Craig, Ph.D., MCC, is an executive coach in San Antonio. She is president of COACH SQUARED, Inc. ( and a senior practice advisor with Atticus, Inc.

Author: Judi Craig

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