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July 2024
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5 Keys to Delegation Mastery

How to shift from doing to leading.

By Linda Patten, DTM, and Christine A. Robinson, DTM

Five people sitting at table discussing work delegation

What’s one of the most important talents of our best business leaders? They delegate.

Let’s face it. You can’t do everything by yourself. Even the most well-known leaders—such as American magnates Marc Benioff (Salesforce) and Warren Buffett (Berkshire Hathaway)—don’t go it alone. They have teams. Sharing responsibilities is the cornerstone for keeping a group active, loyal, productive, and successful. That’s true whether you are running a big business, a small company, are a “solo”-preneur, or leading a Toastmasters club. Somewhere along the line certain functions require delegation.

Delegation is a management skill that has been known to strike fear in the hearts of many leaders. Giving others the reins isn’t always familiar or comfortable territory for leaders, especially if the manager is new to assigning work to others. As leadership development expert Jesse Sostrin, Ph.D., noted in an article for the Harvard Business Review: “One of the most difficult transitions for leaders to make is the shift from doing to leading.” A survey of business executives by California’s Stanford University found that more than one-third of respondents identified delegation as a “skill that needs improvement.” Another 37% responded they were “working on it.”

Delegation is easy to do but difficult to master. Simply put, the stumbling block is fear. Fear of making a mistake; fear of looking foolish to your colleagues. Fear the project won’t be done on time. Fear of time wasted explaining when you could be doing the job yourself. To reduce that fear and gain confidence, consider these five delegation mastery tips. They can be used by anyone, from the most adept leader to the newest entrepreneur.

1Select people who complete you.

When building your team, with internal staff or with outside consultants, find people whose skills complement your own. For example: someone with superior social skills might make the initial contact with clients. Another team member, with strong financial skills, may create a business proposal. The whole team may provide input from various perspectives and raise and solve issues that lead to the manager’s final approval. The mix of diversity and new ideas among the team contributes to innovation and growth. Everyone benefits.

Astute delegation gives the team a sense of ownership, pride, and positive self-esteem. They’re likely to repeat this collaboration the next time an assignment comes along.

2Let go so you can grow.

Sometimes, what to delegate is a clear decision. For example, say you are at a stage of growth where your financial recordkeeping requires upgrading. Now the task exceeds your capability (or interest). To employ someone with accounting and financial skills then becomes a no-brainer.

Through delegation, you create the space to grow into new areas of leadership for yourself, as well as develop team leaders.

However, sometimes the areas you know you could be delegating are the well-known ones within your comfort zone. They are easy to do. They bring an amount of joy and fulfillment. You hang onto them and then wonder why you’re still too busy and feeling overwhelmed. Or you feel unmotivated because you’re not feeling the challenge.

Through delegation, you create the space to grow into new areas of leadership for yourself, as well as develop the team leaders needed for your endeavor to thrive. Delegate tasks to those with the expertise or the desire to handle the job. Delegate the comfortable work that could be holding you back and be open to greater, more rewarding opportunities for yourself.

3Trust and share.

To delegate effectively, you need to know and trust people. Provide everyone with enough responsibility to complete their task, and enough accountability to circumvent coming back to you for every little decision. Delegation is a two-way street; it’s not about unloading information and then leaving. The team needs a clear understanding of roles, duties, and deliverables.

At the other end of the scale is micromanaging: making sure everything is done “right.” Micromanaging has the potential for deflation and, in the end, serves no one. Responsibility and accountability are the mainstays for project completion.

4Leverage your weaknesses.

Many trainers suggest using your strengths to improve your weaknesses. We say go with your strengths and leverage your weakest areas with people who are better at the task than you are.

Self-made billionaire and founder of Spanx Sara Blakely hired a chief executive officer to run her business. Many eyebrows were raised by her actions—after all, doesn’t everyone want to be the CEO of their company? Blakely shared some delegation advice at a Forbes Women’s Summit for entrepreneurs in New York. “As soon as you can afford to, hire your weaknesses,” she said. “What you’re not good at is usually what you don’t like.” The decision allowed her to focus on her strengths as a businesswoman and enjoy a good work/family life balance.

Make delegation work in your favor. If you are the inhibited type but love numbers, partner up with a “people person” to make the calls and do the presentations.

5See training as an investment.

Busy leaders often feel they don’t have time to teach what they know. They believe the fastest, most efficient way is to do the job themselves. They end up not delegating at all—a sure path to burnout as well as unhappy, underutilized teams. Start with easy-to-assign tasks that are repetitive, research-based in nature, can teach others, and help formulate a plan of action.

Surprisingly, as we begin to delegate tasks, we often discover the people we train are better at the assignments than we are. Through this teaching and learning process, the precious time we think is lost turns into the pleasure of everyone learning something new. Imagine that!

Delegation is the crucible to bring form to a shared goal or idea. Your leadership gives you the freedom to influence project results. You are an agent of empowerment by cultivating others’ talents. Together you turn a shared passion for a common purpose into a successful endeavor.


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