Learning to let go: the art of delegation

Delegation means working smart. It’s about investing in your employees’ development to boost productivity and let you focus on your long term goals.

A baton being passed – the art of delegation

Your time is an investment.

You could waste it getting bogged down in the minutiae of each and every project and overworking yourself, or you could put your trust in a colleague and give them the responsibility to complete the tasks for which you just don’t have the time, whether whole projects or individual elements of administrivia.

Letting go of short-termism

Yes, delegating responsibility and assigning tasks can be daunting – your inner perfectionist will be screaming – and it demands more of your time in the short term, but it pays dividends over time.

If you spend 20 minutes briefing a colleague to complete a task instead of immediately diving into it yourself, you’re not only giving them the experience and confidence to take on more responsibility down the line, but you’re also then able to focus your energy on the more important, longer term projects.

The art of delegation

Delegating, however, doesn’t mean just indiscriminately dumping undesirable tasks on colleagues at the very last minute.

To be effective, delegation requires careful planning and clear direction.

  • First, you need to decide which projects and tasks you can delegate. In an ideal world, you’d only spend your time dong the jobs you enjoyed, throwing the menial and tedious tasks to everyone else, but this isn’t an ideal world. Make a list of your most common tasks, determine which of them could be done by someone else and delegate some of them.
  • Then you need to pick the right person; don’t just go to ol’ faithful every time. Think about the task at hand and select the person best suited to it.
  • Give them clear instruction and direction: what’s the end product? What’s the objective? When is it needed? This is best done in conversation, followed up by an email with the main points. Give them any helpful resources or previous examples, if you have them. And allow, as far as the time limit for the task allows, your colleague to set their own deadline, based on their own workload.
  • But don’t prescribe. There’s a big difference between guidance and setting down every single step that they should take. The latter approach might get the job done, but the employee will learn nothing.
  • Similarly, you can’t stand in the way of deviation; your way is not the way. Let them complete the task in the way that works for them. They’ll make some mistakes along the way but they also might just end up suggesting improvements to your best practice.
  • Remember, however, that you still have ultimate responsibility for delegated tasks. Delegation is not an exercise in shifting the blame.
  • Give praise and constructive criticism where it’s due, referring back to the objectives set down in the initial briefing.

The benefits of delegation

Letting go is tough – ‘if you want something done right, do it yourself’ – but try to do everything yourself and you’ll burn out.

If you constantly hover about and micromanage, sending torrents of check-in emails and demanding regular update meetings, you’re wasting everyone’s time, including your own.

Delegating tasks not only increases your own productivity, it also encourages the personal development of your employees and new hires.

Furthermore it ensures business continuity. Training up your colleagues means someone can step into the breach if you fall ill.

Delegation is not about avoiding work and flicking unpleasant tasks off your to-do list, it’s about working smarter: knowing your strengths and those of your colleagues and taking full advantage of them.

Hat tip to Nguyen Vu Hung for the photo.

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