Do What You Do Best, Delegate the Rest

Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do, and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.” – General George S. Patton

In my experience so far, delegation is by far one of the most difficult lessons for both newly-promoted managers and for entrepreneurs whose teams have grown so much that the only way towards growth is letting go of control. It may seem surprising at first as there is nothing easier apparently than letting someone else do your work for you. There are a lot of entrepreneurs and managers out there who don’t even know they have a delegation problem. However, if you are one of those entrepreneurs or managers who work nights, who can’t find time for themselves in between work and work and who find themselves constantly complaining about their unskilled and unprofessional teams, then there is a good chance you don’t master the art of delegating effectively.

The 10 Commandments of Effective Delegation

Of course they are not rules and of course there may even be more than 10, but the checklist below is in my opinion decisive for successful task and responsibility assignment:

  1. The person you are delegating to may take longer than you at first to achieve the task – I know. At first delegation can feel like more hassle than it’s worth, however by delegating effectively you can hugely expand the amount of work that you can deliver. So, yes. In the beginning, your colleague may take longer than you to perform a project, but in time his timing will improve and your team will actually be able to deliver more projects through this team expansion.
  2. There is no room for instant perfection when it comes to delegation – It’s not only a deadline problem, at first it’s also a problem of how well the task is performed. However, if you delegate a task and if you believe the person you delegate it to is capable of achieving it, then it is very important to let go. What’s the worst that could happen anyway? Answering this question might actually help you realise the actual risks and find a solution for them so that you no longer worry about the delegated task (you now even have a backup plan). Even if things are not perfect the first time you trust your colleague with the given task, delegation eventually helps him develop skills and learn by doing (which is the most powerful learning method).
  3. Trust and let go – Delegating is very much like building a love relationship at first. You realise the risks of trusting the person near you are high and there are no real guarantees. However, provided you’ve pondered well that the person near letting go and having some faith
  4. Delegate according to skills, experience and interests – Obviously, in order to assign a task effectively, you must ensure the person you assign it to has the necessary skills and experience to achieve it. If there is also motivation or a special interest for the task, then your colleague will be even more eager to carry it out.
  5. Different levels of experience, different levels of delegation – Delegation should happen according to the level of trust between you and the colleague you are delegating to. The more experienced your colleague is and the more you trust him the less you should explain the delegated task. In other words, if your colleague is a junior or if it is the first time you work together, you will need to go into details and explain the task thoroughly. For senior colleagues or colleagues you’ve worked with for a longer time, the level of task detail should be lower.
  6. Your way is not the only way and not even the best way – Self explanatory but not as obvious at first. And that’s why rule number 3 is so important.
  7. Not HOW, but WHAT WHEN and WHY – Don’t focus on the process. Be precise as far as the desired result goes, give a clear deadline and if possible and needed it also helps to explain why the task is necessary and what its role is in a bigger picture.
  8. Clearly articulate the desired outcome – Begin with the end in mind and clearly specify the desired result to the person you delegate to. Make it SMART – specific, measurable, assignable, realistic and time-related (give it a deadline). This way you make sure your colleague understands it and there is no room for misinterpretation.
  9. You delegate authority and responsibility at the same time – This is called the delegation triangle. When delegating you have to make sure you delegate the authority to your colleague as well – he is empowered to make decisions and to achieve the task. But he is also responsible for the results and he must realise this.
  10. Emphasize results, not worked hours – This is pretty basic. But if your colleague complains about the long hours he has worked, remind him that you are only interested in the results. This way you make sure your team understands that delegation goes hand in hand with responsibility for the task’s result.

Good luck delegating! It’s the first step towards team performance!

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