Once you are in the world of work, delegation emerges as a pivotal skill. It is the foundation upon which the flow of work depends, whether you entrust tasks to others or employ delegation as a means to efficiently lead your team, granting you the freedom to concentrate on your own responsibilities.
Achieving goals, maintaining budgets, and avoiding overextension – you can’t do everything yourself – all hinge on the art of delegation. Effective leadership necessitates its mastery.
Learning the skill is often left to individuals to figure out, usually through a combination of trial and error or by observing suboptimal examples. It’s a valid question to wonder why, given its paramount importance, learning the skill is given more attention. I’ve pondered this question countless times myself.
So here is the methodology I’ve employed to teach individuals, enhance teamwork, nurture a productive culture, and apply it in both my corporate roles and consultancy positions. This won’t be your typical “how-to guide.” I’ll delve into the underlying reasons you might find delegation challenging, but bear with me, as mastering this skill can alleviate stress, prevent burnout, and eliminate confusion.
Whether you’re just starting your career and management journey or are a seasoned professional, I hope this innovative approach offers you valuable insights.
Don’t dive into the deep end
When it comes to delegation, diving into the deep end and starting when it most counts is not the recommended approach.
Frequently, we must motivate ourselves to engage in delegation, which can be an uncomfortable experience. It brings forth a sense of losing control and can induce stress. But there comes a point when you need to, you must, you can’t do your job, deliver objectives, or meet deadlines.
Setting the scene
Before we delve into the process of mastering the art of delegation, it’s beneficial to explore why it can be challenging.
Now there can be different root causes which surface but fundamentally it is the fear of loss of control. In essence, it doesn’t feel “safe” for your subconscious to delegate. And when your subconscious doesn’t feel safe, your natural human instinct is to avoid such activities at all costs. If you do have to engage in such an activity, it is difficult to do so in a calm, clear manner and without triggering a surge in stress hormones.
It’s no surprise, then, that many individuals grapple with delegation, even in the presence of numerous “how-to” guides and delegation matrices. They often overlook the most critical component: understanding themselves and how their subconscious reacts to the concept of delegation.
Learning to let go of control
There’s no magic solution that can instantly reconfigure how your subconscious functions and the work to explore this takes more than what can be covered in one article.
Nevertheless, you can start the process of reprogramming how your mind reacts and feels about that feeling of loss of control. Whether it stems from a lack of trust in others, perfectionism, the fear of failure, apprehension about others’ potential mistakes reflecting poorly on you, or the nagging worry that you’ll end up doing the task anyway, you can learn to release your grip on control.
The key lies in building this skill gradually – take small steps and provide yourself with tangible evidence that it is indeed safe to delegate.
Acknowledging it is going to be awkward
Practice self-compassion. The most effective approach is to recognise that the process may not feel comfortable, that concerns about the outcome will arise, and that it may not be perfect at first. It’s essential not to be hard on yourself for these feelings.
As you delegate to different individuals, you’ll discover that it takes time for both parties to become accustomed to each other’s work styles and preferences. This learning curve is entirely acceptable and part of the delegation process.
Communication is key
Concise and clear communication is vital – a skill I had to hone through practice.
When you’re well-versed in a task, project, or have the expertise and pressed for time. It’s all too easy for your instructions to omit crucial steps, skip sections, or overlook significant details. Take a moment to prepare: clearly define what you want them to accomplish, specify the time frame, and consider guiding them with references to prior work products or examples.
It’s undeniable that delegation demands an initial time investment, but by laying a strong foundation, the returns will prove worthwhile in the long run.
A culture of questions is crucial
Whatever your best endeavours are, it doesn’t mean that your instructions will be crystal clear or perfectly understood. Therefore, fostering a culture in which your team feels comfortable asking questions is paramount. Encourage the idea that they may have questions or aspects to clarify.
It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to provide all the answers yourself. At times, it may be appropriate to guide them to another team member who can assist. This practice helps minimise errors and reduces the likelihood of things going awry.
Understanding the bigger picture
This crucial step is often overlooked. In many of the issues around delegation I encounter while working with teams this aspect is missing. It’s essential to ensure that everyone comprehends the broader context of their tasks and the reasons behind them. Moreover, if these tasks are part of bigger and better pieces of work, openly communicate your future vision to your team. Don’t hesitate to articulate your aspirations for them. When your team shares in this vision, they become more engaged and committed to delivering exceptional results. Therefore, be sure to incorporate this element into your instructions.
Getting the right level of oversight
This naturally leads us to the next point: establishing the appropriate level of oversight. Take into consideration the individual’s background, skills, and expertise. Can you provide high-level instructions? Are you confident that the person will handle the task with minimal supervision, or does it require more hands-on guidance?
When evaluating team dynamics and seeking ways to enhance a team’s culture and efficiency, this often becomes a pivotal issue. It can swing between extreme micromanagement, where leaders struggle to let go of control, and a state of confusion and stress among team members due to a lack of support.
You might find it necessary, either for your own peace of mind or due to the person’s skills, experience, and expertise, to adopt a more hands-on approach initially. This is entirely acceptable, but it’s crucial to communicate this approach clearly. Set clear expectations regarding what needs to be accomplished and when, and then only check in at the agreed-upon intervals.
Adapt your approach to individuals based on how they respond best. As long as you are satisfied with their work output, pay attention to their tendencies: do some thrive when granted autonomy, preferring a less structured delegation approach, while others may excel in a more supportive environment with greater guidance?
For those falling into the latter category, remember that you don’t necessarily have to be the sole provider of support. Consider implementing a buddy system where a colleague can offer assistance. One caution: you need to acknowledge and take into consideration their workload when you ask a colleague to step into this capacity.
There are no shortcuts
We’ve all experienced it – the sensation of having an overwhelming workload with limited time. The thought of handling everything on your own might seem tempting.
However, resist that urge. When it comes to delegation, there are no shortcuts. Investing the time upfront is non-negotiable. The benefits will always follow, without exception. Proper delegation not only boosts your and your team’s productivity and enhances staff retention, but it also significantly contributes to your overall well-being and that of your team. It reduces stress levels for all parties involved.
Mastering the art of delegation is an ongoing process that requires practice and refinement. When done effectively, it can transform the way you lead and manage your team. By empowering others, you not only free up your time but also foster a culture of growth, collaboration, and innovation within your organisation. Remember, delegation is not just a skill; it’s a strategic leadership tool that can drive success at all levels of your organisation. Begin honing this skill today, and observe your leadership abilities flourish.
Rebecca Ann is a leadership expert and mentor who specialises in helping women unlock their full potential. She is the founder of The Successful Leader’s Collective, an exclusive networking and professional development community for high-achieving women and a sought-after speaker and workshop facilitator.
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