Author and coach Bill Hawkins

In 20 years of conducting leadership seminars and one-on-one coaching with executives, what would you guess to be the most common complaint I hear?

It sounds something like this:

There’s just so much on my plate. The amount of work that needs to be done can be overwhelming. There are meetings, conference calls, administrative requirements, not to mention routine emergencies that suck up all my time. It seems like there aren’t enough hours in the day to get it all done.

And what advice does our busy leader get? “You need to delegate more.” 

Surprisingly, the answer for the “not enough hours in the day” boss isn’t to delegate more but to delegate more effectively.

Delegation is not a quality like “demonstrating integrity.” Honest, ethical, and legal behavior is always appropriate―delegation isn’t. Inappropriate or poorly executed delegation can do more harm than good.

Criteria for Delegation

A good place to start is to review the criteria for delegation. Why do it? There are 3 good reasons a leader should delegate work:

  1. To ensure the work is done at an appropriate level (closest to the customer, at the lowest cost, with access to the needed information, etc.).
  2. To free up your time to do other more important activities.
  3. To develop the people on your team.

Ideally, you want to include all 3 criteria. So, how do you know what to delegate and to whom?

Steps to Delegation

Step 1: Every job (no matter if it’s the CEO or the person greeting at the front desk) can be broken down into 3 to 5 major components. There are no exceptions to this rule! Identify the key 3 to 5 areas of your responsibility, and then list several activities you do to achieve success in each of these key areas.

For example, one area of responsibility for a customer service manager might be: Train new customer service representatives.

Activities to support that responsibility might be:

  • Orientation on email and voice mail communication
  • Dealing with angry customers
  • Researching information on shipment and delivery questions
  • Handling quality issues

Step 2: Look at each activity and ask yourself, “Is this developmental for me? Am I building skills that will be useful in the future? Am I learning more about this business or industry? Is this increasing my business acumen, building my skills, and expanding my understanding?” If the answers are all “No,” even if you enjoy doing these activities, it is not necessarily a good use of your time.

Step 3: I can assure you there are people on your team who think your job is more interesting than theirs. Some would like to have more responsibility, earn a larger raise, or maybe get a promotion. Is there anyone on your team you could delegate all or some of these tasks to and it would be very developmental for them? If so, this is an appropriate opportunity to delegate work.

No Dumping Allowed

Step 4: There is a difference between delegating and dumping work on people. Effective delegation requires orientation to the new assignment. To the person assuming the new responsibilities:   

  1. Communicate why he or she has been selected for this assignment.   
  2. Discuss how much time it will take and how to structure their schedule so there is time available for this additional work.
  3. Make sure they have access to needed information or know where to find it.
  4. Confirm that they feel like they have the authority to do the job.

If you follow these simple steps, you’ll free up time for yourself and you’re also engaging and developing people on your team.

That is a Win / Win.  And that is effective delegation.