Deliver By Delegating

Several of the mid-career leaders I coach have said that they cannot expand their role because what they do “is not scalable.”  Translated, they mean that while they have mastered the ability to lead their departments or the teams working on their projects, they don’t have bandwidth for greater responsibilities.  When I ask how they have risen to their current positions, they attribute their success to being able to devise winning strategies and keep on top of the workflow by closely managing the more junior staff doing the majority of the hands-on work. 

Because they believe their success is attributable to managing every project’s details and personally making the right decisions on those matters every day, they don’t see a path forward to having more responsibility because they don’t have room to take on more.  And how could they, when their attention to detail is so sweeping?

What’s missing is the ability to successfully delegate.  This does not mean being a better micromanager of the work team members are doing!  In fact, the dictionary defines “delegating” as “to commit (powers, functions, etc.) to another as agent or deputy.”  By effectively delegating specific responsibilities, leaders free up more time to focus on what’s most important.  As an added bonus, effective delegation also contributes to the development of stronger, more engaged team members, who themselves appreciate the opportunity for increased responsibility and in turn are more loyal to the leaders who show confidence in them.

The overarching principle for success in delegation is to be crystal clear in what you are delegating, and to have a system in place to hold people accountable.  Dr. Relly Nadler of True North Leadership describes a five-point tool to help leaders delegate effectively while simultaneously developing others, an important competency of successful, emotionally intelligent leaders.

  1. What are the Desired Results?  Know what the big picture is, beginning with the end in mind.  What do you want to accomplish?
  2.  What are your Guidelines?  Are there limits on how much time or money should be spent on the project?  When and how often and how do you expect the person to check in?  When should the person make their own decisions and keep you advised, and when must they come to you first with their recommendation, and get the final decision from you?
  3. What Resources are available? Is training needed?  Can outside consultants assist?
  4. How will you Hold People Accountable?  What will you use to measure the desired results?  How will you know if the people you are delegating to are succeeding?  How will they know if they are succeeding?  When, where, and how will they be measured?  Who else will hold you and your team accountable – your boss?  Clients?  Others?
  5. What are the Positive Impacts of success?  What new opportunities might flow from delivering results on this project, for you, for the individual, and for the team?

Once you’ve figured out the answers to these five questions, you’re ready to sit down and go over each point in detail with the person you’ve decided to delegate to.

And what about the notion that a great manager knows every detail about their department’s projects?  It’s not really true.  The great leader at every level personally focuses on the most important issues and facts, but always knows who to turn to on her team for the rest of the information, when that becomes necessary to know.   Give it a try!

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