A leader can’t possibly complete all the tasks required by their department themselves, but this doesn’t stop many from trying. A Harvard Business Review study titled ‘Why aren’t you delegating?’ found that almost 50% of the companies surveyed were concerned about their employees’ delegation skills—and most of them didn’t offer training on how to delegate.
They falsely believe that they can do a task more quickly themselves, rather than taking the time to explain to their staff what they want done. Whilst this may be true at first, if a task needs to be repeated then the loss of time adds up quickly and too often a leader is losing time doing tasks that are below their pay grade.
According to a Fast Company article by Carson Tate, the most common obstacle to delegating is psychological—the need to do everything yourself. This can occur when a new leader is starting with staff and they are struggling to shift from doing to delegating or when an experienced leader is a perfectionist and doesn’t trust their people to get the task done the right way.
The most common mistake a leader makes when delegating is they delegate the wrong way. They often just tell a staff member to do something without providing any context or information around expectations or how they want it completed. The result is that the task is not completed to the level that is required, or in the time frame needed and the leader stops delegating. The unfortunate by- product of this situation is that after a while staff are not being developed and they realise that with a little bit of push back their manager will do it themselves. After a while the leader also starts to get frustrated because of the increased workload.
A simple way to delegate is to start by sharing the task and working with your direct report to create a one-page plan together.
Leaders need to start by asking their staff what steps they believe need to be taken to accomplish the task—not telling them! Once the staff member starts sharing ideas, the leader can also contribute and guide their staff member toward the best solution.
After identifying the specific steps to be taken, the leader can next ask their staff what order they think the steps should be taken and coach the month best sequence and the reasons why. This changes the entire dynamic of the relationship. This approach increases trust and creates a sense of engagement that is lacking in many workplaces.
For larger tasks during this planning conversation an effective leader can also ask their staff member to identify a couple of check-in meetings to see if there is anything else the leader can do to assist their staff member as well as ensure that their staff are still on track. By quickly taking a photo of the plan on a digital device a record is quickly captured for future reference.
Over time leaders can fast-track this delegation hack further by getting their people to develop their one- page plan independently, then seek out advice from the leader before they execute the plan. This allows the leader to share any additional insights or encouragement—and starts shifting this project management skillset to their people.
By taking 10-15 minutes one-on- one with their people, leaders can hack the way they delegate to one that empowers their people, lifts performance and saves time.
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Scott Stein has helped thousands of leaders around the world. As author of Leadership Hacks: Clever Strategies to Boost Your Impact and Results, he is considered a global authority on implementing fast track leadership strategies that get results. Scott teaches individuals and organisations to improve their performance, by inspiring their people and teams to do what matters. Read more