Three Tips for Becoming a Master Delegator

I worked for a credit union years ago, and when I was first promoted to HR director, I remember my boss telling me that my promotion came with a lot of changes. I would no longer be assessed just on my technical expertise. My success would be evaluated on my leadership abilities and how my team performed. This was a challenge for me, as I enjoyed being a problem solver and technical expert. When an employee had a benefit question, I could answer it off the top of my head. When there was a payroll issue, I felt accomplished when I could figure out the discrepancy. Yet this all changed when I was promoted. I was now expected to coach and train my staff to take care of these issues while I focused on more strategic, long-term projects.

Many leaders struggle to make the leap from manager to leader because they fail to realize that the value they bring to the organization changes when they are promoted. When most managers are promoted, they continue the activities they did in their previous role and take on some additional duties like performance evaluations and answering staff questions. But to be a successful leader, a big shift has to occur. You need to make sure you are not confusing your expertise with your value. As an HR generalist, the value I brought to the credit union was my human resources expertise. But as an HR director, my expertise was less important. Different competencies like influencing, coaching and delegating were required to be successful. This was a big mental shift for me, and one that didn’t happen easily.

One of the first things I needed to do was to identify the key result areas for my new role, and delegate the activities that were not in my key result areas. This exercise helped me to focus on the areas that were most important to be successful as a leader.

Defining key result areas is one of the first exercises I have participants in my leadership programs complete so they can be absolutely clear about where they need to focus their energy and time. For a copy of the exercise I use in my leadership program, click here: Key Result Areas Exercise

Once you have identified your key result areas, the next step is to determine what to delegate. This sounds easy, but in practice it can be quite challenging. The truth is, most leaders have not mastered delegation. Most of us struggle to let go of things we know we can do well in order to free up our time to focus on areas that will deliver more value. Additionally, many leaders get addicted to the feeling of checking things off their list. I am a master at list making, and checking things off gives me a rush of accomplishment. But sometimes they are small wins and not the things I should be working on. I keep myself in check by identifying my top two priorities for the day and completing those before I move on to smaller tasks.

If you ever struggle with letting things go, here are three tips to become a master delegator:

1.  Track your activities. For two weeks, make a list of every activity or task you come across that can be done by someone else. As a business owner, I used to struggle (and sometimes still do) with handing things off to my assistant. I would convince myself that this task was something only I could do. But when I had more work than time, I had to make a change. I created a list of things my assistant could do and started delegating tasks each time we met. Some activities were easy to delegate (create tabs for leadership binders) and some were more complex (manage my website). I didn’t delegate everything at once, but creating a list helped us to work toward unloading more things off my plate. Another strategy is to think about how much you make an hour, and determine if a task or activity is worth paying your hourly rate, or the rate of one of your employees. Delegate tasks that can be done by someone else effectively, but cheaper.

2. Take time to coach and delegate effectively. There is a difference between dumping and delegating. Dumping is assigning a task to someone with no guidance or direction. Delegating (particularly for more complex tasks) takes time and patience. Most people avoid delegating because they know it will take more time up front to show someone else than to complete the task themselves. But that investment of time will reap rewards down the road. The proper way to delegate is to explain the result you need, share information or expertise you have, and then provide support as your employee completes the task herself. Give the employee the authority to carry the task to completion, and don’t micromanage the process. Let your employee know you are available if he has questions.

3. Create a follow-up system. Depending on the task, you may need to create a method of follow-up with your employee. Does he need to send you a report each month? By what date? Does he need to let you know when he’s completed the task? Be clear when you are delegating about deadlines and the follow-up method. I once delegated an important task to my assistant and didn’t give her a deadline. I assumed she knew it was a priority. I assumed wrong and it was my own fault. As a leader, it is your responsibility to be clear about your expectations. Use the Why-What-When method. Why you need it, What you need, and by When.

Do you ever struggle with delegation? What are your tips for letting go of tasks that aren’t a good use of your time?

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