“If you want something done right you have to do it yourself.”Have you ever heard someone say that before? Perhaps you’ve said it yourself. I’m a bit embarrassed to say that I’ve said it on several occasions each time not realizing the impact my words and actions had on the people around me, including myself.
When I think of the concept of leadership the words that come to mind which best describe someone who possesses great leadership abilities are words like servitude, guidance and influence. Delegation, which certainly falls within those words, is a powerful action a leader can take to empower the people around them while also alleviating workloads from their plate.
Harvard Business Review refers to delegation as a critical skill for leadership. HBR also shared insight from Jeffrey Pfeffer, the Thomas D. Dee II Professor of Organizational Behavior at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, who said:
“Your most important task as a leader is to teach people how to think and ask the right questions so that the world doesn’t go to hell if you take a day off.”
A recently published study indicated that 78% of employees in major corporations think that their bosses routinely do work that could be effectively delegated. The research also revealed that 66% of managers said that they would like to increase their use of delegation as a time management and personnel development tool.
When I first saw these statistics I was a bit confused. How can that be? More than ¾ of employees feel their bosses need to delegate more, whereas almost the same number of people who are considered the ‘boss’ realize that delegation is important and they need to do more of it. Both parties involved, the employee and leader, recognize the importance of delegation, yet it isn’t happening, or to the degree that is needed within the workplace.
Rather than spending time focusing on why delegation isn’t happening in the workplace I figured it would be better to focus on what can be done to improve it. (If you’re interested learning more about why leaders struggle with delegation I suggest reading this article as it provides a comprehensive overview of the root cause of delegation issues)
Improve your delegation efforts by following these three steps:
Breakdown Your Responsibilities
Spend 15 minutes listing out all of your responsibilities over the course of a typical day or week. Do you have projects that are ongoing or initiatives coming up soon? List out each activity or item and give it a rating based on the following scale:
1 – Vital to company, high profile importance AND time sensitive (within the next week),
2 – Vital to company, but not time sensitive (doesn’t occur in the next week),
3 – Important to the company but verging on a ‘nice-to-have’
4 – Not important to company or divisional/ department performance
Now that you have rated your responsibilities you’ll want to start by getting rid of anything you labeled as a ‘4’. Don’t delegate this work, don’t put it on the backburner. If it isn’t important you shouldn’t be spending time on it. Anything you labeled as a ‘2’ or ‘3’ are activities that are prime opportunities to delegate to coworkers, peers or direct reports. Responsibilities you listed as ‘1’ should stay with you. Caution – it's common for people to think everything they do falls into the ultra-important category of a ‘1’ activity. This isn’t the case. You’ll need to be self-policing in this area and honest with yourself as to what is a ‘1’ versus really being a ‘2 or 3’.
Ask For Help
First say to yourself, “I’m being unrealistic. I can’t do this all on my own. There are people around me who would love an opportunity to help.” Once you’ve had your moment of self reflection start assessing your surrounding team as well as the other teams or parts of your company. Pick out three to four people who have the potential to take on stretch assignments or additional work and speak with them about it.
Tell them why you are seeking their help at which point you will then ask if they are interested. Remember – delegation isn’t throwing work on people and saying “I’ll see you when it’s done.” You are going to have to help the person get ramped up and be there to support them as the work kicks off. This may require more of your time in the beginning than you would like but the benefits that will come in the end far outweigh the time spent during the ramp up.
Praise Effort, Not Just The Results
Once you get the hang of delegating you may find yourself saying, “I can’t believe I didn’t do this earlier.” Now that you have removed work from yourself and are giving others an opportunity it’s important you are paying attention to the people doing the work, not just the work itself. All too often we focus on the end result, completely ignoring the effort and process that got us to completion.
If you want people to continue helping you with future projects and work its important you focus on the effort they are putting in and praising that time. At the end of the day those people are helping make your job and life easier so it’s important you show them appreciation for that and do so often. People who feel like their time and work is valued will work effectively and diligently without you asking them to do so while producing the best results.
“No person will make a great business who wants to do it all himself or get all the credit.” – Andrew Carnagie
About the Author
Travis Smith is the founder and managing director of Square-1 Engineering, a life sciences consulting firm, providing end to end technical project services to companies which design, develop and or manufacture products in Southern California. He successfully served the life sciences marketplace in SoCal for over 15 years specializing in engineering services, consulting, project outsourcing and leadership development. In 2019 he was recognized as a ‘40 Under 40’ honoree by the Greater Irvine Chamber of Commerce as a top leader in Orange County, CA.