Delegate for Development


Several years ago, I had the opportunity to work with Sarah, a leader of a small facilities management team. Sarah hadn’t taken a real vacation in over three years, because she was fearful of leaving her staff without her daily guidance. Even though she had managed this team for several years, and they were very capable at doing routine daily tasks; the team still came to Sarah for guidance and input on the simplest of decisions.

I was called in to consult with her because of some glaring issues she was having with her staff. Namely, getting them to perform to higher levels of competence, reduce errors, increase response time, and take more care and responsibility towards the level of service they delivered to their customers.

After a few days of watching the team, interviewing Sarah, members of the staff, and key customers I reported to management that the problems lay in one key area. Sarah was failing in one common, but critical aspect of leadership – delegation!

Sarah was resigned to the fact that she needed to “do it all”, and that the team’s current level of performance was further evidence that she needed to be involved in nearly every task of the day.

Research conducted by Ben Rosen, Ph.D., professor of Organizational Behavior/Strategy for the Kenan Flagler Business School at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, related to several generation of workers found that all shared the same top five expectations of their employers. The expectation which led the list for all of them was “to work on challenging projects.” This plea from workers for more challenging work assignments even ranks above a request for more compensation.

What does this say about where our focus as leaders should be? Well the irony is the very thing that Sarah was reluctant to do, is exactly what the team was craving. Delegation is a tool for leaders not only to share the load more effectively, but it is a great development tool to help increase capacity in your staff and organization.

Here are some helpful keys to use delegation as a development tool:

  1. Delegate the right task, to the right person, at the right time. For delegation to be effective it has to be strategic, not reactive.

In order for your organization to succeed, you need every member contributing to the success of the organization. One of the most effective ways to do that is by developing the job task and decision making skills of your staff; delegation is one key tool in advancing that development. One of the best times to make delegation the most meaningful and effective is during the moment you are building your staff’s development plans. Choose the appropriate tasks, at the appropriate time, and then delegate it to the person truly capable of getting it done. Consider including delegable tasks or projects in your next development plan cycle.

  1. Delegate for the right reason. Only delegate what is important to the strategic goals and success of the organization.

One of the worst mistakes a leader can make when trying to improve in the art of delegation is to assign meaningless tasks just for the sake of delegation. This can lead to distrust on the part of the person being assigned the task, and it is a huge waste of valuable time. Make sure that the tasks that you delegate:

  • Are aligned with the business goals of the organization.
  • Can be explained as to how it will impact the assignees development.
  1. Delegate by providing the right resources, to get the right results. Set expectations, and follow up after assigning tasks.

Effective delegation involves more than merely assigning the task or project, but also supplying the necessary resources and appropriate level of authority required for success. In short, if no authority is granted, then you cannot expect the results your organization needs. This often leads to the “delegate and forget” scenario, where no follow-up or feedback is provided and the assignee gives up from lack of support.

Remember, the purpose of delegation is not to make your job easier by choosing tasks you don’t want to do and then dumping them off on a subordinate. The purpose of delegation is two-fold: one, to promote the team concept which says even the leader needs help in moving the organization forward; and second as a way to develop the capacity of other workers in the organization.

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