Seven ways to improve your delegating skills

By Rhymer Rigby

Delegation is a key skill for effective leaders, who simply do not have the time to do many day-to-day tasks. Being able to delegate well allows leaders to free themselves to do the high-value tasks they’re paid to do, and to improve their own performance. Here are seven tips on how to delegate more effectively.

1. Consider the benefits. Delegation isn’t just about freeing yourself from tasks that are beneath your pay grade – it is also about making those who work for you happier. The flip side of delegation is empowerment. Letting people get on with their jobs and giving them control is a huge motivator and will result in a boost in their discretionary effort. It’s not just short-term engagement, either. By giving them new tasks that will stretch them, you’re building up their skills, advancing their careers and being the kind of manager any ambitious person wants to work for.

2. Set the scope. The first question, perhaps, is: What should you delegate? And the answer is: as much as you can. As a senior manager, you should keep only three main areas. The first of these is big picture stuff such as strategy; the second is important tasks where you can make a real difference; and the third is relationships – for this reason many senior people ensure they’re involved in recruitment. Pretty much everything else can be done by someone else.

3. What not to delegate. Don’t pass on tasks involving highly confidential information unless the person you are delegating them to has a similar level of clearance as you do. For rather different reasons, you shouldn’t delegate jobs simply because you don’t like doing them, as this can be very demoralising. Similarly, don’t hang on to low-grade jobs just because you really enjoy them, although it doesn’t hurt to get your hands dirty  occasionally.

4. Learn to let go. Many managers find delegating excruciatingly difficult. The biggest single reason for this, to be blunt, is control freakery. A lot of people believe that if you want a job done well, you have to do it yourself. As a result, they are chronic micromanagers. If you fit this description, you have to try to let go: Micromanagement is a waste of your efforts and demotivates those below you. If you struggle to do so, start small. Delegate a little. Then, if your underlings do a good job, delegate a little more; this should result in a virtuous circle. If you’re really struggling, try thinking about the alternative. If you hang on to every task that you do now, how will you ever progress? Think, too, about low-value tasks you have already dropped – and how little you miss them.

5. Set a detailed brief. Other managers are poor delegators because they just hand over tasks and assume the work will get done. Properly selecting and briefing those to whom you delegate may sound like a hassle, but it’s an investment that will pay back many times over. Agree how the task will be done, discuss a time frame and decide how progress will be measured. The next time you do it, it’ll be easier and the time after that easier still. What you’re doing is creating a template for delegation and building your reputation as someone others are happy to take delegation from.

6. Provide the right tools. Remember, too, that you need to give those you delegate to the tools and resources to accomplish their tasks. If you delegate sorting out the team’s travel itinerary to your personal assistant, he or she will need credit cards, access to contacts at travel management companies and so on. You should monitor what staff members are doing, without meddling, and listen to their suggestions. You also need to ensure that people know your door is open if they have problems. It is far better for your staff to ask you minor questions at the beginning that prevent a disaster two days from the completion date.

7. Always offer feedback. If those to whom you delegate tasks do them well, you must ensure that you give them positive feedback and that they get the credit elsewhere in the organisation. This requires a bit of conscious effort. It’s very easy to slip into giving feedback only when jobs are done badly. And people are likely to praise you rather than your team. But positive feedback is hugely motivating, and telling others that your team did the work reflects very well on you as a leader.

Rhymer Rigby is the author of The Careerist: Over 100 Ways to Get Ahead at Work and writes a weekly careers column for the Financial Times.

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