Why You Should Make Time To Delegate Effectively

“If you want to do a few small things right, do them yourself. If you want to do great things and make a big impact, learn to delegate.” – John C. Maxwell

You have too much work to do. The impact from this has you working long hours, yet you still seem to miss the occasional deadline because the volume of work is so monotonous. You have the option of delegating some of your work, but you don’t because you’re too busy to do so. Why don’t you leverage the power from delegating effectively?

Does this sound familiar? I get this because I confess, I’ve been guilty of this myself at various times throughout my career. With the benefit of hindsight, I now realise this was especially the case when I was in a demanding leadership position when I should have delegated so much more than I did. The logic I used was my team was also busy and it would be quicker if I just did the task myself. However, it was sort of like “fools gold” because I didn’t leverage capacity from others I could have, and I wasn’t exposing them to new opportunities and learnings. In a way I was inadvertently stunting their growth.

As the Professor of Organizational Behaviour at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business and author of What Were They Thinking?: Unconventional Wisdom About Management, Jeffrey Pfeffer supports the notion of effective delegation: “Your most important task as a leader is to teach people how to think and ask the right questions so that the world doesn’t go to hell if you take a day off.”

Common pushbacks I hear when I talk to leaders about delegating are time, existing load on staff and how they won’t complete the task to the same level that they would do it themselves. While all these might be valid arguments, they’re not looking at the real “big picture” impact and benefits from delegating. For instance, 1 study reported CEO’s who delegate well drive 33% more revenue than CEO’s who delegate poorly.  

What is effective delegation?

To me, effective delegation happens when both parties have a clear understanding of what needs to be done and in what timeframe. It’s not just a flick pass telling someone to do a task. Those who delegate well check the person understands the task, the scope it covers, when it’s required and the expected level of quality. Sure, it might take longer initially, but it’s done to help the person succeed and it’s an investment that can payback massive returns.

Effective delegation also provides a safe environment. People being delegated to need to feel comfortable in asking clarification questions because delegation doesn’t work well when questioning is stifled due to a fear of looking incompetent.

If you’re delegating to people who frequently miss deadlines, then set the benchmark of expected standards. This can be achieved by communicating and checking in with them before the due date to see how they are progressing with the task. Common reasons people miss deadlines are due to their disorganisation (you know tasks that are forgotten about!!!) or the priorities they set. Remember, being accountable is a skill and you might be able to help them improve with coaching and mentoring.

It’s a warning sign if you’re overwhelmed and your team’s capability is underutilised. A great way to delegate more is to give your direct reports permission to call you out when you haven’t delegated enough. You might be surprised how often they do this!!!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.