Effective Delegation = Effective Leadership

“Delegating work works, provided the one delegating works, too.”

Robert Half

No matter how good you are, you can’t do everything.

For example, you can’t count your hair. You can’t wash your eyes with soap. And you can’t breathe when your tongue is out. (Hey, put your tongue back in your mouth. I was joking. You probably can breathe when you’re sticking your tongue out. The problem is … nobody wants to be around you.)

You simply cannot do everything … because you don’t have all the time in the world … and you don’t have all the resources you might need. So you must learn to delegate some of your dreams, goals, objectives, or tasks to somebody else once in a while.

And if you delegate correctly, the results can be wonderful. The two people who did more for women’s rights than anybody else in the United States … Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony … talked about that. The teamed up and divided up their work in the 19th century, delegating tasks to one another as needed. Indeed, Stanton once said about Anthony, “I am the better writer, she the better critic … and together we have made arguments that have stood unshaken by the storms of thirty long years; arguments that no man has answered.”

So how can you make delegation work for you?

1. Think about your goals and objectives.

Of course, there are some things that only YOU can do. But don’t let your ego and perfectionism sabotage you. You don’t have to do EVERYTHING all by yourself.

Ask yourself if there are some things you could delegate to others … especially if you have too much to do and not enough time. Ask yourself if it makes sense to invest a little of your time training in someone else to do some of those things. In both cases, your answer is probably “yes.”

2. Carefully select the “correct” person to take on your delegated tasks.

Notice the emphasis on “correct.” Delegation is NOT dumping some of your work on any person you can find. You’ll live to regret that.

Just like a farmer who knows each of his animals by name and behavior, in order to effectively delegate, you must know the strengths and limitations of each person on your team or in your family. You need to not only choose someone who can help you, but you also need to choose someone who can grow as a result of the delegation process.

3. Tell the other person the whole story.

It’s not enough to give someone some of your work and tell him to “get ‘er done.” If you don’t give someone the who-what-when-where-and-why of your project, you’re robbing him of the pride he could take in doing that job. People need to know how their piece of the project fits into the bigger picture.

And of all those aspects, the why-part is the most important. Employees like to know there is an organizational master plan in which they are playing a part. If leaders are unable to communicate that plan to their followers, or if the followers don’t recognize the significance of their contributions, their individual motivation can go down the drain.

One way to get the why-part or the significance of the delegated task in someone’s mind is to use numbers. If you tell someone, for example, that the department made 50 errors in order processing last year, you may be accurate but not motivating. However, if you make those numbers come alive, you’ll get more buy-in. Say something like this: “Our mistakes in order processing cost the company $73,000, gave us 600 lost work hours, and 50 unhappy customers. That’s why I want you to work on streamlining our old process.” Now you’ve got their attention, and they’ll never forget how important their delegated task is.

4. Give specific instructions and get specific feedback.

It’s critical. I’m sure you’ve told someone to do something and they did something very different than what you wanted. If that happens, delegation is pointless.

You need to make sure you understand each other. If you don’t, the results can be comical at best and costly at worst.

In fact, that’s how comedians make their living. They play off of misunderstandings. For example, Jerry Seinfeld noted, “My parents didn’t want to move to Florida, but they turned sixty and that’s the law.” Another comic stated, “When I die, I want to die like my grandfather … who died peacefully in his sleep. Not screaming like all the passengers in his car.”

You’ve got to be extremely specific as to what you want and when you want it.

And then say something like this: “I’m not always sure that I say things as clearly as I should. Could you please tell me what you heard me say?” Don’t say “I want to see if you were listening” or “I want to make sure you got it. So repeat back to me what I just told you to do.” That could come across as threatening or demeaning. So put the responsibility on yourself and your own communication skills.

When you give specific instructions, include deadlines in your specificity. Without deadlines you really don’t have any delegation going on. So if you tell someone you want the task completed by 3:00 p.m. next Friday, you’ve got a specific deadline. If you say you want something done “right away” or “as soon as possible,” you don’t have a deadline. Specific dates and times cement instructions in our minds.

5. Establish a follow-up system.

Just because you delegate something doesn’t mean it gets done. I’m sure you can think of a time when you gave someone a task to complete in two weeks, and when you went back to them in two weeks to see how things were going they had forgotten the task. Or they just never got around to working on it.

You need to write down when you plan to follow up with the other person.

And when is the best time to follow up? At the beginning of a project. On a two-week project, for example, the best time to follow up is in the first three days so you help the other person overcome project inertia. After all, a body at rest tends to stay at rest, and a body in motion tends to stay in motion.

Finally, to effectively delegate…..

6. Implement a reward system.

People tell me, “Well gee, I thank them when they do a great job.” And I tell them “big deal.”

Think about it. When someone pours you a cup of coffee, you say “thank you”. When someone opens a door for you, you say “thank you”. And when someone pours 90 hours into a project, you say “thank you”. I would hope you would do more than that. It’s disproportionate. Greater effort requires greater recognition.

The other person deserves more detail. Say something like, “This is really great. You obviously put a lot of time and thought into this.” And then go on to compliment some specifics in their work. Let them know how their work made a difference. The more you do this, the more they feel like you really care and the more they will care about the next project they do for you.

As Robert Half, a renowned human resource professional put it, “Delegating work works, provided the one delegating works, too.” He’s right. And these six steps are the work you have to do when you’re delegating.

ACTION:  Which of the six steps in delegation do you most need to improve? What are you going to do about it?