The Secret Art of Delegation

The Secret Art of Delegation

You know that you need to delegate. Everyone is saying – “More delegates!” – As if delegation is the solution to all your problems.

It can be, really – if you do it well. It took me 10 years to crack the code, so here in the blog post I wish I could come back when I make it easier to learn the art of delegation.

What does it mean to delegate

Delegation is usually understood to delegate a task or responsibility to another person, usually one who is less senior than himself.

I like that the common definition proceeds with belief, but it does not always include judgments between instances that can be delegated – which is unfortunate, because where real magic happens. A more modern definition can read:

Delegation can be about helping your team grow as it can about helping yourself grow. It is certainly a more specific, always-so-it-is-such formula than an art. Here are some questions that can help you decide what and what to assign, and from whom:

Is the person meeting expectations? If not, is there anything on my plate that can help them live up to expectations for better learning? Or, does handing them jeopardize their success in their current role?

Where does this person want to go, and how do they want to grow? What is on my plate that will help them?

What am I really good at that I may find it difficult to delegate and therefore, probably should?

Am I not good enough to be better off without being forced by someone else to do my work for me.

Am I at a senior level and am spending more time “thinking” than thinking, discussing and making decisions? If so, I am likely to do the work that I have hung on to pursue in my career and it is time to leave.

This can only be helpful in letting people choose. “Here are some things in my plate … If you want to help any of this, let me know!”

Delegation goal

Delegation should feel like a gift, not because of something that is another long day or a meaningless project.

The ultimate goal of the delegation is to leave the person you felt this way:

Wow, I’ve learned so much!
Now that I’ve done that, I’m ready for ___!
Thank you for trusting me!
How nice to be recognized for that!
Here’s how you don’t want someone you want to feel:

Why even ask me to do this if you are going to fix my every move?

If you are going to take credit for everything I have done, then what was it?

Oh, I see, I’m doing my work for you. Why are you here too?

These are the most common results from poorly representative practices. They also earn you fancy names like micronagner, credit theft and profit taker.

What to do before you think

Before you start delegating, you should build a strong foundation. You need your team’s dynamic and your personal relationships with each member of your team in a healthy place. If you can’t answer with an enthusiastic yes! For all of the following questions, you will then have some work to do before starting the delegate.

Are you self aware

It can be tempting to tell someone how you are doing something, maybe even good at doing it. Focus on what you need to do and why it matters, not how to do it (unless you are asked). Work on your self-awareness so that you can catch yourself if you start gambling about the “how”.

Are the responsibilities / tasks of each role within your team (including yours) clear and transparent to the entire team?
Your team needs to understand what is expected of them and each other and you. Taking time to write it goes a long way. Your team will have a clear understanding of ownership and will result in greater ownership potential. Your team will be able to identify the things they want to learn or want to try. Bonus: Your team will likely see more clearly the value you bring to the team.

Do each member of your team (including you) trust and respect each other?

Mutual trust and respect are the first layers of building psychological safety, which is important for making people feel comfortable taking risks. Doing new things is about what can feel like one of the biggest risks of all: failure. The process of accepting delegated work can remove weaknesses that are easily mitigated with genuine psychological safety.

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