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How to Succeed at Delegation

It’s not news to anyone that delegation is a key aspect of leadership. But it’s also one of the areas where people seem to really get stuck. How often have you known you’ve needed to delegate something but didn’t because you couldn’t seem to let go? You can probably also remember a time when you delegated something and it turned out so poorly that you: A) ended up having to do it yourself, and B) decided that you were done delegating.

Delegation doesn’t have to be such a hit-or-miss proposition. It can be done well. And when it IS done well, it’s a powerful tool in the leader’s toolbox.

How can we begin to think about delegation in a way that moves us toward success? Here are three suggestions (The 3 D’s of Delegation) that should help to get you heading in the right direction:

Define Success

Part of why delegation goes so poorly is that we don’t clearly define what success looks like for the individual to whom we’ve delegated a task. What is the end goal? What are our expectations? What metrics will determine successful completion of the task? (For example: 500 packets successfully stuffed, or two vans successfully reserved, or a certain number of people in attendance, or X amount under budget, and so on.) Are there specific considerations or rules that must be observed while accomplishing the task? Defining success is the first part of making sure delegation is fruitful. 

Determine Not To Micromanage

One of the key leadership principles I’ve learned through the years is to “surround yourself with good people, train them to succeed and let them serve according to their unique capabilities.” This means that very often, the task you delegate will not be done exactly like you would do it. As leaders, we have to be OK with this. Our way is not the only way. We empower people by clearly defining success, then freeing them to achieve success in their own way. 

(Notice that it says “determine not to MICROmanage. There is a difference between managing and micromanaging. Managing a delegated task can be done without dictating process based on personal preference. There’s a difference.)

Debrief the Result

Because many of us are moving so fast, we don’t often take the time to debrief delegated projects. It’s a shame, because this is how we build proficiency in those we lead. By affirming proficiency and graciously pointing out inefficiency, we help those we lead become experts at the tasks we delegate. When we fail to debrief, we leave our team members unsure of how well the task was completed and could lead them to repeat ineffective or inefficient practices as a result.

For some people, delegating may be the trickiest part of leadership. But with intentionality and a good plan, it doesn’t have to be. 

What did I miss? What would you add?