Many new managers are excited to be leading a team and, along with worthy goals of wanting to help develop people and be seen as an inspiring role model, they are also excited about being able to delegate work to someone else!
When you get into the role how do you stop yourself becoming “teflon”, i.e. things flow straight through you and load onto the next level, or being “too nice” and continuing to do things that aren’t commensurate to your level and what you’ve been promoted to do because you don’t want to over burden your team? Effective delegation is a skill that you can develop.
Here are some of the tips from my own experience and from my clients.
Set expectations and boundaries - what are you expecting the person to deliver and by when. If format is important, make sure you specify this and any other parameters that are non-negotiable. However where possible allow for them to use their initiative and creativity.
Give context - Show how what you are asking for fits into the wider picture, what their work contributes to, what subsequent steps will be and why timelines have to be met
Check understanding - this isn’t the same as saying “are you clear?”. They might have a different understanding of what you think you’ve asked for or be too afraid to admit they are unsure. Ask how they’re planning on approaching it, who else they might need to engage, how long they think it might take them.
Help reprioritise - check their capacity and help give guidance on prioritisation if required
Be available and open for questions - make yourself visibly available for quick questions and clarifications. In responding, ideally take a coaching approach to allow them to develop their own thinking and be able to do more on their one in future. There may be times when you need to be more directive but try to avoid “telling” as the first response.
Check in and give feedback - if you’re seeing progress not in line with your expectations make this clear, give them the opportunity to adjust before the deadline. However try not to micromanage, give them sufficient space to work things out themselves.
Give credit - make sure the person knows how their work is used and give recognition of both effort and achievement.
This might seem like a lot of effort and it is. It is why it’s important to think about what you’re delegating and to who. Some further tips on this:
Work out what to delegate and when - balance opportunities for someone to learn and build exposure against the urgency/importance of the outcome. Remember the ultimate responsibility for a successful outcome still lies with you and some things shouldn’t be delegated, e.g. important strategic decisions.
Think about how you are distributing work across the team - do you always go to the most skilled person who you know can do it fastest or do you take a deliberate decision to provide a learning opportunity to someone else? How can you also engage more skilled team members to provide guidance to less experienced people whilst giving them opportunities to develop themselves.
Build trust - You are likely to need to keep a closer eye on things as you start delegating to someone until you and they are both confident in what they are doing. You'll start to understand how they approach problems and what guidance they need. Then you'll be able to delegate more complex things.
Get comfortable with losing some control - the whole point of delegating is that you are not doing it yourself and you have to accept that other people might have a different approach to you. As long as the outcome is right this shouldn’t be a problem. Trying to micromanage someone to do exactly as you would is only likely to generate anxiety and certainly not a space to learn or for better ideas to come out.
Accept it might take more time than doing it yourself initially- it’s an investment that will free up your time in future and allow you to focus on the more complex and strategic tasks your role expects.
I hope these are useful tips and reminders for those who are already well on their leadership journey as well as those getting started. As always I’d love to hear of other ideas and experiences.