You can’t expect to effectively lead a team if you can’t delegate
This is true regardless of whether you are a detail-oriented, hands-on person or a big-picture hands-off leader.
If you’re a detail person who can’t delegate, you’ll end up micromanaging. Not to mention losing your mind over the excessive hours you’ll work. If you’re a big-picture person who can’t delegate, you’ll be scattered and have trouble delivering. Both are a recipe for unhappy and unsuccessful teams.
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You may have been able to put your head down and plow through some really difficult work in prior roles, gaining you attention and ultimately promotion. But leadership roles are more nuanced, and very much not about you alone. They’re about you and your team.
We all sort of know what delegation means. But I think it’s important to really think this through. Here’s how I see it:
Delegation is about fully understanding the scope of the task at hand, recognizing what you bring to this task and your team, and also recognizing what each member of your team brings to this task and the team. If you really know your people and the work you must do, you have the ability to distribute work in a way that lets everyone (including you) work at the top of their skillset and get far more done than you could ever do on your own.
Do you struggle with delegation?
Many people do. When you ask people why they don’t delegate, they will give all kinds of reasons: It’s easier to do it myself. … My people won’t meet my standards. … I don’t have time to teach my team. … I don’t know how to hold them accountable.
If you’re someone who sometimes thinks this way, ask yourself this:
- Do I know how to delegate?
- Have I fully examined the true scope of the task?
- Do I know my team, including their strengths, weaknesses, work styles and preferences?
- Do I trust my team?
Be ruthless in the self-examination. If you are having trouble delegating, it’s possible there is something amiss on your team. But it’s also possible, and perhaps even likely that you need to adjust your thinking. And whatever is behind your delegation problem, the solution starts with you.
Learning to delegate: As you think through these questions, recognize that delegation may not come naturally to you. That’s OK, you can learn and practice and learn some more. If you’re reading this post, you’re moving in the right direction, and working through the following steps will help.
Examining the task: As you examine the scope of the task you can start to pick apart the pieces and see both what can be handed off, and how your team will need to be prepped to take these tasks on. Delegating isn’t about dumping a to-do in someone’s lap. You also need to give each person the tools for success, and this starts with a clear assessment of what you are asking.
Knowing your team: As you consider the members of your team, you may recognize you are not delegating because you don’t fully understand the competencies and challenges of your people. If that’s the case, you can’t effectively delegate. So sit down with each person. Ask about what they bring to certain types of tasks and where they may stumble. Be engaged and supportive. This is about learning how everyone can best contribute.
Trusting your team: This is a big one. People who lack trust in their teams generally feel this way for one of the following reasons:
- You have an issue with this specific team
- You had an issue with a previous team
- You have a sense that no one but you can be trusted with the task
If there are problems with your team, feedback and accountability are your friends. Be explicit in your direction, and then honest and nonjudgmental with feedback. Here’s one approach to try. Troubleshoot and optimize so things will go more smoothly next time.
If you had problems with a previous team, recognize that it was a learning experience, but some of those lessons may no longer apply. Keep what does seem to fit, and let go of the rest. Teach your team what you want without assuming they will replicate past, unrelated failures.
And finally, if you think no one but you can be trusted with this task? Chances are good that you would knock it out of the park, but in most cases there are many ways of doing things, and most of them are often pretty good. You are a leader now, and your work now requires different skills than what got you to this position. Your job now is to be more visionary, to develop people and processes, to work at a higher level. You simply can’t do this is you’re down in the weeds.
Delegation as a ninja leadership skill
Think about the greatest leaders, those who inspire professionals like you and me every day. Maybe you have worked for someone like this, someone who took the time to understand you and how you could support your organization. Someone who trusted you with something important or maybe even took a risk on you. Someone who gave you a framework to grow into the leader you are today. Now it’s your turn to give someone else that chance by delegating. And — bonus! — it’ll enable you to extend your reach, have more impact, and bring your ideas to life faster. What leader doesn’t want that?
What has delegation enabled you to accomplish?
Last updated May 14, 2019