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When and How to Delegate

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Theodore Roosevelt said: “The best executive is one who has sense enough to pick good people to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.”

In one sentence he described the essence of delegation. A leader or manager is responsible for making sure certain things get done; not for doing everything personally. The most effective leaders don’t strive to be super-heroes. Rather they are exceptional at picking good people to do what they want and need done, and then letting them get on with it.

When to Delegate

Leaders should delegate whenever possible without compromising their objectives or overburdening their team. Giving people challenging and meaningful work, along with the authority and resources needed to accomplish that work, makes a team stronger and more motivated. It also frees up management to focus on planning and other strategic issues.

Rather than trying to determine when it makes sense to delegate, Peter F. Drucker suggests that leaders be aware of what they should not delegate and then assume everything else is fair game as far as capacity exists. The areas that Drucker describes as “executive action” are the responsibility of the manager or leader and should not be delegated. They include:

  • Setting objectives for the department/business unit/company.
  • Organizing employees into efficient teams.
  • Motivating and communicating.
  • Checking and analyzing results.
  • Developing the routine decision-making job skills of subordinates (although delegation is often the tool used to accomplish this).

It’s also important to remember that the leader remains ultimately responsible for the successful completion of delegated tasks, even when team members have been given the necessary authority and resources to accomplish them. In other words,

“True delegating means giving up what we’d like to hold onto—the authority—and holding onto what we’d like to give up—the responsibility.”

~ Dr. P. Kuriloff

How to Delegate

The delegating process is made up of four basic steps

1. Choosing a capable person: You may be delegating to get a job done or to give someone an opportunity to develop new skills. In either case, you need to choose someone who can rise to the challenge. It’s also important to have reasonable expectations of what the selected individual can do in the time and with the resources available. Managing employee workload is critical when delegating since overburdened employees may find it impossible to compete assigned tasks and will be less likely to learn the desired skills.

2. Explaining objectives and desired outcomes: Take the time to think through tasks to be delegated so that they can be properly explained. If desired outcomes are unclear or the limitations of an assignment are fuzzy, chances are the end result will not live up to expectations. While the means of accomplishing a delegated assignment should not be regimented, leaving no room for initiative or independent thought; specifying desired results, lines of authority and deliverables will ensure that things don’t veer too far off track.

3. Assigning the necessary authority and resources: If you don’t give your employee what is needed to complete the delegated task(s), you might as well do it yourself because you’ll spend as much time sorting out problems and removing obstacles as you would doing the job. Be sure to provide whatever authority and resources your employee will require to get the job done, which may include:

  • access to information,
  • technology and/or tools,
  • an adequate budget, and
  • a directive informing support staff that they will be tapped for assistance and should cooperate.

4. Maintaining contact: Arriving at the right level of contact and monitoring when delegating is a balancing act. While you remain responsible for delivering the results of the tasks you delegate, excessive supervision defeats the purpose of delegation. Periodic reporting, review sessions and informal conversations are ways you might maintain contact. When determining your approach, keep in mind that your objective is to let the employee complete the assigned task and/or develop the desired skills independently. Only monitor to the degree you can do so without hampering that independence.

Delegation benefits both parties to the arrangement. Managers and leaders are better able to allocate workload so they can focus on critical and strategic issues. At the same time, employees can take on meaningful and challenging work that builds their self-confidence and judgement, while developing new job skills. As an added benefit, successful delegation generates trust.

What are you juggling? Maybe it’s time to start delegating.

 

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References

Canadian Management Centre. Climb Higher Leadership Development Program

Delegating. Park Scholarships Leadership Skills Training. North Carolina State University. http://www.ncsu.edu/project/parkprgrd/PSTrainingModules/delegating/del12frame.htm

Management Study Guide. The Importance of Delegation http://www.managementstudyguide.com/importance_of_delegation.htm

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