The Art of Delegation

Delegation is a core leadership skill for business owners and leaders – and key to a happy team

If you can’t effectively delegate, you will hit a point where you are become totally overloaded and you’ll become ineffective. Have you ever felt so overwhelmed with your workload, whilst your team are sat around chatting. It’s a sure sign you need to rethink.

Very few companies teach people how to effectively delegate. It’s one of those things that everyone assumes you pick up as you gather experience. The problem with this approach is that you’re basically using trial and error until you get it right – if you get it right.

There are two elements to a effective delegation leadership style. The first one is the team member you are delegating the task to, the second is the task itself.

How to Delegate to Team Members

In any team, there will be a combination of new starters, experienced individuals and everyone in-between.

The Situational Leadership® Model developed by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard is useful in helping a leader understand where his team members are in their development. The model places people into four categories and explains how leaders have to adjust their style depending on where the person fits into the model. It’s a very useful approach in helping people to understand the individuals in their team.

As a leader you need to adjust the level of direction and support in order to get the best out of your team.

Problems arise when leaders don’t change their approach to suit the person that they’re dealing with. If a leader has a ‘one size fits all’ leadership style, they will struggle to get the best out of their people. So if you have a natural tendency to want to get into the detail, the people at D1 will probably respond positively whereas the people at D4 will feel like they’re being micromanaged.

If they like to think of themselves as ‘strategic thinkers’ or they’re bored by details, the people at D4 might prefer it but those at D1 will probably feel unsupported and exposed.

It’s a bit of a generalisation but you get the idea.

As a leader you need to change your style and behaviour in accordance with the individual that you are working with. The one size fits all approach doesn’t work. Why not take this model and think about your own team?

Where would you put people? Which boxes would your team members fit into?

The goal is to have a healthy spread across all four boxes. If you have too many people in D1, you are going to have to spend a lot time developing them. If you have too many people in D4, they’re at risk of boredom because there probably isn’t enough challenging work to go around. The other issue is that they are likely to compete internally because there are limited slots available for promotion with many people ‘ready for step-up’.

If you are leading a group of team leaders, consider the spread of experience in the teams. If a team leader is overloaded with people at stage one, his team will not perform as well as someone who has plenty of people in stage four.

How to Delegate Tasks

The next thing to think about is the task itself.

Some tasks will be easy to delegate. They will be comfortably within the remit of an employees job description. These are the level one tasks. At the other end of the spectrum are the tasks or situations that people have no idea how to deal with. These are the things that they cannot do because they don’t have the experience or the authority to make the right call. These are the level five tasks.The problems come in the middle.What defines a two, a three and a four? Who defines it? How does time – or lack of time – impact the situation? It doesn’t really matter how you define a two, three or four or what level of control a leader is comfortable relinquishing.

What matters is that as leaders you have the conversation with your team members.

This gives people clear boundaries and a safe space within which to operate. It also helps you because it frees you up from hearing about all the details that you don’t need to know about. It also gives you a common language you and your team can use to communicate about tasks.

Delegation is a Skill

Delegation is an important leadership skill. If you fail to delegate effectively, you’ll be less productive as a leader and be unable to focus on the longer-term issues that need your attention. From the perspective of your subordinates, it will feel like you don’t trust them and they won’t get given the challenging tasks they need to further their development.

If you get it right, delegation creates opportunities for your employees to take on new responsibilities. When they learn and develop new skills, they are likely to feel motivated. If they can perform each other’s tasks, they will understand the challenges and difficulties faced by people that were delivering them before. Over the long-term, this raises the level of empathy amongst the group building team cohesion.The one-size fits all approach to delegation doesn’t work.Use this approach to successfully navigate the delegation challenge ensuring you pick the right individual to do the right task.The long-term impact is that you’ll develop your subordinates and create the space for you to think strategically and long-term. Who wouldn’t want that?

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