By Sam Warner, Toastmasters International club
Why have a dog and bark yourself? You might have heard of this expression – and it’s certainly true. The trick is to find the balance between delegating effectively and becoming Teflon-coated and not doing any of the work yourself.
In my experience, far too often companies promote members of staff into leadership roles and then develop them once there, instead of giving them the tools to do the job first and then promoting them into the role once equipped. When this happens, the new leader is left unsupported and drowning. New leaders are often under the impression they must prove themselves so they want to get a lot achieved in their first year – but they risk burn-out if they try to do it all themselves. A sign of a great leader is one who is confident enough to delegate effectively.
Delegation provides opportunities for people to feel empowered, supported and encouraged. It also gives the leader a chance to dial-down overwhelm and stress by spreading out the workload amongst the team.
Here are 10 tips to help you delegate more effectively:
1. Clear goals. Be really clear about your vision and mission and share it with your team. If they understand the direction the team is going in, and the objectives that need to be achieved they will start to think about how they can contribute.
2. Ask for help. If employees feel respected they will offer to help you to achieve your objectives and goals. You have to be clear about what’s in it for them. They need to know you are the kind of leader who rewards effort and is there to help them succeed. A good saying is that “your success is only achieved through theirs” – and you have to mean it and let them know this is how you operate. There’s no room for insecurity or game playing if you want to be an effective leader who delegates easily. If they can see your vulnerable side, where you are not perfect, where you make mistakes and don’t have all the answers, they will know that you value consulting with them and leveraging their knowledge and experience when solving problems. Ultimately, they will feel respected and valued.
3. Small steps. If you are new to the role of leader or you have a new team – don’t go in like the proverbial bull in a china shop. Don’t start making changes in the first three months. Instead use this time to get to know the team, understand their ways of working, rules of engagement, foibles, idiosyncrasies and preferred styles of communication and you’ll be able to appreciate their world as it stands – before you add to it. Really get to grips with their deliverables, and understand their touchpoints with other teams, their concerns and challenges. These small steps will pay off massively in the long run.
4. Great feedback. If you can’t give great feedback that is useful and useable then it will become very challenging for you to delegate a second time. You need to give them specific examples of where things went well and why that was great or didn’t go so well, help them articulate how they might mitigate that in the future so that the issues melt away. Reward them, in a meaningful way, for their efforts. Deliver valuation and feedback that supports their career goals and identifies training and development opportunities.
5. Skill sharing and enhancement. Is there a task that needs to be done that uses a very specific skill set – even if you have someone with the skills already – is this a chance to upskill a more junior member of the team? By ensuring that you have no silos (individuals with special skill sets that are potential single-point-of-failures if absent), delegating tasks across the team will upskill them and ensure that no-one, when they return from holiday or other absence, is faced with a pile of work – because it’s been absorbed by the team. This will create a harmonious team working environment where everyone feels like their team mates have their backs. When people are in this mindset – they are willing to take on other initiatives to help. It reduces stress and absenteeism as an added bonus!
6. Ask for ideas. If it’s a viable idea ask the team member to lead on it, with you as a consultant (so they don’t feel isolated or vulnerable). This raises their profile, makes them feel respected and gives them a specific deliverable which so many jobs rely on to prove that the individual is delivering work over and above the standard job description. This is important in competitive corporate climates. You can build a culture of problem solving by being genuinely approachable and easy to work with. If you don’t want people to bring you problems to solve – ask your team to bring you solutions and ideas instead. They will feel empowered to try to figure out how to fix things before approaching you for approval to go ahead; thereby discouraging whinging and moaning about problems which they then expect you to solve.
7. Tell them why before how – and be specific. Humans are not robots – they need to understand why a task has to be done to understand the value they are delivering. Only then will they be able to absorb the policy, process and procedures; the nuts and bolts of the task. You should feel comfortable explaining the why – so the employee can see how it fits in to the bigger picture and can feel part of something beyond themselves. If the task you are asking them to do serves no purpose and hangs over from the past “We’ve always done it” then reassess it and define its value before asking someone to spend time on a seemingly pointless task. When delivering instructions for a task – start with the end in mind and be specific about the desired end result. Clearly outline the lines of accountability, responsibility and authority. Be extra clear on touch points/milestones and deadlines – get them diarised. Organise a review once the work has ended so you can give feedback (see no.4). Don’t be tempted to focus on how they got there, just focus on the results achieved.
8. Most of your team members will be unconsciously incompetent. For this reason, it’s really important to nourish them when completing new tasks. Support them, advise them and check in with them (without micromanaging them) agree set times to check in so that they can reassure you they are working through it, and ask any questions they may have. There has to be a level of trust and smothering someone daily by asking them if they have completed a task yet serves no-one. Set an agreed deadline and adjust it (with mutual agreement) along the way if necessary; it is the professional way to approach task completion.
9. Choose the right person. Getting to know your team will help you to build mutual rapport, trust and respect. Its these things that help you decide whom to delegate to as you’ll know if they are able to cope with the work, or if it’s too much of a stretch – both in workload and difficulty. Take time to get to know how they like to be rewarded and why they come to work every day – then you will understand what words to choose when you are being persuasive and encouraging to them. There’s no point in overloading someone with too much work or give them a lot of new things – you’ll just watch them fall. It’s important to get to know your employees’ limitations so that you can push them a little but not drown them. There is no point in fostering the “sink or swim” mentality as you’ll lose key players in your team and build distrust and resentment. Choose wisely.
10. Become self-aware. Understanding your impact on others will greatly enhance your charisma, your ability to delegate effectively and your listening skills. Seek to understand first, then question. Listening is the most useful skill you can cultivate. It validates the person speaking, and makes them feel heard. It allows you to be a safe sounding board for all sorts of things in the team. Ask for feedback from your team (it’s not a one-way street you know) and respond to that feedback if you can so they know you are paying attention and adapting. Let the team see how you interact with senior members of staff so you can show by example how you would like to be treated. Most leaders are followers too.
Lastly, I recommend you cultivate the power of persuasion. It’s amazing how influential you can become when you say quietly to someone “I can see you doing X. I think you’d be really great at that, why don’t you give it a try?” Remember team leaders are there to lead the team and make decisions, NOT to do all of the work.