Master the fine art of delegation

Posted in Leadership, Mentor Minute

Master the fine art of delegation

The Globe and Mail, Career Section, Friday April 16, 2010

Mentor Minute
Quick Career Advice from Expert Katie Bennett

The Scenario:

I was promoted a few months ago to run a division of my company, and I feel run off my feet. In my opinion, the people on my team aren’t showing enough initiative in taking on responsibilities. Then again, I may be my own worst enemy, for I like to be on top of everything. How do I learn the fine art of delegation?

The Advice:

As with any new job, there will now be countless new things for you to learn and master. The challenge is, that in order to have the time and energy to take on these new things, you have to let go of the old things.

When you pass on tasks that you have already mastered to others, they get a chance to grow and learn. The more they grow and learn, the more that comes off your plate. The more “old tasks” that comes off your plate, the more “new tasks” you can take on at a higher level. Everybody wins.

Of course, this sounds ideal. But there are often huge barriers to effective delegation. One is the perspective that you can do it better and faster yourself. The second is often a lack of trust of those you are delegating to. The third is the expectation of others in the organization that you will be the one to execute a particular task.

You can do it faster, but slow down In all likelihood, you can probably do it faster than anyone else. But that is not the point. It’s time to permanently delegate certain tasks to others so you can start mastering new skills. Give others a chance by slowing down, exercising patience to mentor where necessary and be careful not to offer advice on how to do every last detail of a delegated task.

A key technique to help you do this is to focus on asking questions first, versus simply giving answers. When someone comes to you with a problem, stop yourself from jumping in with the answer. Instead, ask them questions to help them figure it out and reach their own conclusion. This is a much more empowering way of working with other people.

It’s all about trust Trust is also at the core of being able to effectively delegate. Without trust, you may pass on a task to another person, but then micro-manage them to the point where you and the other person will both walk away thinking you should have done it yourself.

To develop trust of others, set both of you up for success. Be specific about what is delegated, be clear on timelines, and set up specific meetings for the person with the delegated task to check in with you and provide a progress report. This will transfer ownership and accountability to the other person, and also allow you the freedom to forget about them in between meetings and focus on your own projects and assignments. Trust will soon follow.

Let others know who is responsible Finally, to effectively delegate a task, you need to let others in the organization know who is now responsible for a specific task. There is nothing worse than handing an assignment over to someone else, but then to have others always coming to you for the information or the answer. The delegated person will also thrive on the sense of ownership and responsibility. Once again, everybody wins.

Katie Bennett is a coach and speaker and head of Double Black Diamond Coaching in Vancouver.