Are there delegation secrets?

I have a vivid memory of the first time I was told I needed to delegate a project to someone on my team. Of course, I understood the concept of delegation, but at the time, I was in a new leadership position. So, the reality was I didn’t have much experience with applying what I knew from a textbook explanation. There also wasn’t much value I derived from seeing delegation applied from a bystander’s vantage point, but I needed to begin testing out this concept working with the tools I had.  

Having someone take the time to explain the elements associated with what they were delegating to me, served as a good foundation for how I would approach being in the role of a delegator. I consider myself fortunate to have had some strong and thoughtful leaders who operated on the principle of always setting up others for success. Borrowing from this principle, I thought I could expand upon it. This took the form of making sure that when I was delegating to others, I would always intimate that I would never ask them to do something I wouldn’t do myself. Although I have a strong sense this isn’t universally applied.  

There are a series of factors that will contribute to whether whatever is being delegated is going to have the desired outcome. The first one is that the delegator needs to abide by the principle that there is commonly more than one way to accomplish something. This translates to not criticizing someone for taking a different approach to what has been delegated to them, and which has an effective result. Another factor which will take some time to adjust to, is being able to fully trust the person or team you are delegating something to. Most humans will inherently want to maintain control and not delegate based on this single reason alone.  

If trust isn’t something you have in the person or team you are delegating to, there are some steps you will want to take prior to the delegation process occurring. The first step is to appreciate the reason or reasons why you have not reached the level of trust yet? It’s possible you may not have worked with or lead the person or team you are delegating to for a short period of time (e.g., less than a week or month), and which would lead you to be reluctant to fully trust them…yet.  Another contributing factor which may hinder your ability to delegate may be your fear of the people or team failing at what you delegated for them to complete.  

Independent of time, trust and fear, there is another reason people have challenges with being able to delegate to others. The reason has to do with the fact they are not fully comfortable with their ability to communicate in an effective manner. Because of this, there is a high potential for them self-sabotaging the successful outcome of what they are delegating. For context, I have found that being able to communicate well with others is something many people feel they are not strong at doing. Why? Mainly because they have not put enough practice into having effective conversations with others. Not even doing so in situations where the stakes are much lower, and delegation is not part of the process. This communication practice applies to everyone independently of what decade of life and professional experience they have. Another negative and detracting contributor to this situation is because many people are reluctant to put themselves in scenarios where they may not know how to handle their conversations well. So, instead, they avoid having more conversations, and their communication ability either remains stagnant or doesn’t allow them to progress.  

For the sake of consideration, let’s agree that the ability to converse well is an “art”. Possibly, an art which is not being looked at, but should be factored into serving as the basis for effectively being able to delegate to others. With this premise, I am offering some possible ideas for increasing your ability to delegate effectively.  

* It’s perfectly fine to be nervous about delegating to others. In fact, during the first few times you are doing so, let the person or team you are delegating to know that you have some concerns about delegating to them. However, do let them know that the concerns are based on the fact you are new at doing so, and not because of them or their abilities. They will appreciate your honesty and will likely work harder to not disappoint you or the rest of the team.

* I mentioned practicing your communication skills, and I truly am supportive of you doing this. Not just saying you will practice becoming better at communicating with others, but intentionally putting effort into improving your skills in this area.

* Staying on the concept of practice, being able to practice delegating small tasks, and doing this comfortably is something I always find to be highly supportive. Consider the concept that there are different levels of delegation and work your way gradually up to more complex tasks or assignments/projects which you will need to delegate.

* Ask someone you know who is a strong delegator for some tips they can suggest to help you to ease into becoming more comfortable with delegating to others.

* After the delegated item has been completed, be sure to both follow-up, and let the person or team you have delegated the work to that you appreciate them successfully accomplishing what they achieved.

* If something you delegated didn’t go well, apply what is referred to as a post-mortem. A post-mortem entails going over the details about understanding why and where the project may not have succeeded. The main point of doing this isn’t to cast blame, but to understand how to course correct to eventually reach your desired outcome.

* Prior to any type of delegation, I always recommend putting the desired outcome of your delegation in writing, and making sure any required details about the work that must be accomplished is clearly understood before the delegated work begins.  

Although the ideas I have shared above may not be considered “delegation secrets”, they may be new to people who haven’t had much or any delegation experience. Although, I’m also optimistic even seasoned delegators may find one or two new methods they can apply to increase their own delegation level.

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