Last Word: Delegating Is A Key Leadership Skill

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No matter where we are or what we do, there always seems to be too much to do.  Each day seems to stretch into the next with more items being added to the list of things that need to be accomplished.  There are some days where it seems like it will never end.  While some leaders may struggle trying to complete all of the pieces, effective leaders understand a little secret – delegation.  

Sometimes, the most valuable thing you can do as a leader is delegate work and the corresponding responsibility.  Delegating though, is not necessarily easy.   It can be intimidating and, for some, the hardest leadership skill to put into practice.  As the leader of a team or an organization, your goal is to match the strengths of your staff with the tasks that need to be completed and to maximize the performance of the organization and each individual.  One thing we need to keep in mind is that the leader doesn’t have to do everything and, in fact, shouldn’t be doing everything.  An organization depending on one individual to take the lead on all key activities is an organization on its way to performing poorly.

Delegating is a key leadership skill for several reasons.  Delegating allows the staff to take responsibility for key programs and to increase their overall team and leadership skills.  It also shows you have trust in them, keeps them engaged and gives them greater autonomy in their role.  It can also help with professional development by building new skill sets.  Additionally, it allows you to find more time to focus on the big picture issues facing your business.  Knowing when to delegate, and who to delegate to, is a key skill of effective leaders.  It is also a skill that is learned over time and with practice.  

For a leader early in their career or for one who is uncomfortable in a leadership role, delegating can be daunting.  Some may want to work on the more interesting projects themselves, feel guilty about assigning additional work to other people, or aren’t comfortable with the ability of the staff to perform the work.  They may also worry that it will take more time to explain how to do the work than to simply do it themselves or just want to feel indispensable to the team by being the keeper of specific knowledge or programs.  In the end, none of these reasons are valid for not delegating.  

Before delegating, it’s worth taking time to do some homework.  Not every task should be delegated.  The question is, should this task be? Is there an employee who’s skill set is a better match? Would it help them become a better team member or build their skill set to position them to be a better performer?  If the answers are yes, then the task might be a good one to delegate.  

Once you decide to delegate, make sure you specifically define the desired outcomes and timing.  Be open to a give and take dialogue to ensure the employee understands the role and the expectations. If training is required, be sure it’s available to the employee.  Also, be sure to delegate the responsibility for getting the job done as well as the authority for doing the job.  Effective communication will always be a key factor.  Make sure you have set up a communication protocol with formal check-ins.  Once you have, it is imperative that you back away, don’t micromanage, and let the employee move forward with the task at hand.   

Once you’ve delegated though, don’t assume everything will go smoothly.  Be prepared for the task to hit roadblocks.  Use those roadblocks as teaching moments to help your team solve problems and to be open to new ideas and approaches.  When the individual or team does reach the goal and takes the task to completion, be sure to give credit to each individual for the work they have achieved.  You’ll find a more receptive and engaged team when you do.

Most of all, be patient.  Even though you think you might be able to do something better and faster, give your employees and teams the chance to show what they can do.  Remember, you’re just not building for today but for the long term.

Bob Cody, executive director of Leadership Cape Cod, brings over 25 years of leadership experience in corporate, academic and nonprofit organizations. He is Chief Executive Partner of Innoreate, a business consulting firm, and was a member of the Cape Leadership Institute class of 2012. He serves as a member of the Board of Directors of CLI, Open Cape, Cape Cod Technology Council and the Greater Hyannis Chamber of Commerce, where he is

the incoming Board Chair.