From Overwhelmed to Overachieving: Mastering the Art of Delegation
When leaders get loaded with too much on their plates, it often indicates a failure to delegate effectively. And they tend to do one of two things (in addition to stressing): They may micro-manage or dictate precisely what is wanted and expect the work to be done exactly as they would. Or they dump work on others without the guidance their people need to be successful yet expect the work to be completed flawlessly. The most effective (and least stressed) leaders have developed and honed the critical management skill of Delegating.
Leaders can’t possibly do all the work themselves. Even so, many see the ability to delegate work as a challenge and fail to utilize the team they have in place for that purpose. Those who cannot develop this skill limit their company’s overall success.
Effective delegation is a critical leadership skill. When done effectively, it allows a business to grow beyond the owner’s or founder’s capabilities. It enables leaders to truly step into a leadership role and stop deflating beach balls while their team is at the beach bar. It is also key in empowering your team to perform at their full potential.
Why don’t leaders delegate?
As a manager or business owner, it can be challenging to pass along projects to your employees without feeling a loss of control. In my experience, this tends to be a struggle for first-time leaders and c-level executives. High-performing leaders may be perfectionists who struggle to let go of operational-level tasks so that they can focus on the big-picture. Others may be used to being the workhorse of their organization and feel that any delegation of responsibility is passing their responsibility onto someone else. Some may also be leading a team of people who were formerly their peers, and they feel uncomfortable telling their friends what to do.
This reluctance to delegate carries a steep cost. As leaders take on more work, they get overwhelmed and stressed. They may even burn out entirely and quit.
At the same time, their team is likely also frustrated. They don’t feel like they’re contributing enough or have the authority to do their work as they see fit. They’ll likely become disengaged or start polishing their resumes for another role.
When leaders can’t effectively delegate, it hurts them, their team, and the entire organization.
Delegating without micromanaging or dumping
Let’s look at this from the other side. Most employees thrive in an environment with more freedom to grow, which can be highly satisfying. Satisfied employees who feel they have more authority are less likely to leave.
As a manager, early in my career, I mistakenly asked my team members to take on important projects that required more time skills than they had. To compound the issue, I did not have the time to give them the support they needed to succeed. This led to negative consequences, and I learned that if I gave them what they needed, I could trust my team members to complete the work on time and to my standards.
My struggle was not only that I didn’t provide enough direction, but I found it hard to balance delegating responsibilities and micromanaging the process, which resulted in less-than-desirable outcomes. With more experience, I realized that an effective leader empowers employees to take ownership of their work.
Getting in the mindset to delegate
To delegate effectively, you must balance micromanaging and tossing employees into the deep end to sink or swim. The challenge for leaders is determining exactly where that midpoint is because it depends. It depends on several factors, like the task being delegated, the experience of the person you are delegating to, and the work style of the individual taking on the task. This means the midpoint is a continuously moving target.
David Marquet’s book, “Turn the Ship Around,” offers invaluable insights on transforming an underperforming organization into a thriving one. One of the key takeaways from the book is that responsibility must be pushed as far down into the organization as possible to be successful. In other words, delegation of both tasks and decision-making must be delegated. According to Marquet, the three critical factors to achieving increased levels of responsibility and engagement at all levels of an organization are:
- Control: Decentralize decision-making (delegate) authority to frontline employees to tap into the mutual intelligence of the organization.
- Competence: Ensure team members can work by fostering a learning culture that encourages continuous improvement, feedback, and training opportunities.
- Clarity: Communicate clearly and frequently to provide employees with a clear understanding of the vision and desired outcome to achieve the alignment needed to make informed decisions and achieve the desired results
Effective delegation is a crucial skill for any leader to master, but it is essential to remember that dumping tasks onto team members is not the same as delegating responsibility. While delegation can increase efficiency and productivity, it requires a more dynamic approach in the early stages. As Marquet points out, regular check-ins throughout the delegation and management process are essential to catch any issues before they derail the project.
What mindset needs to be in place to delegate? Adopt a coaching approach that asks “what questions” rather than dictating. Here are some “what questions” leaders can use to adopt a coaching approach when delegating tasks:
- What do you think is the best way to approach this task?
- What resources do you think you’ll need to complete this task successfully?
- What are your thoughts on prioritizing this task with your other responsibilities?
- What outcomes are you hoping to achieve with this task?
- What specific steps do you plan to take to complete this task?
- What challenges do you anticipate facing while completing this task?
- What would be the best way for me to support you while you’re working on this task?
- What ideas do you have for improving the process or outcomes of this task?
- What strategies have worked well for you when completing similar tasks?
- What feedback would you like to receive as you work on this task, and how often would you like to receive it?
Delegating your way to success
Properly delegating work to your team has been proven an effective way to grow successful organizations. According to a Gallup study, CEOs with high delegator talent posted an average three-year growth rate of 1,751% – 112 percentage points greater than those with limited or low delegator talent.
Habits can be hard to break. But delegating tasks effectively is essential if you want to build a high-performing team. But finding the right balance between micromanaging and delegating can be challenging. The key is to build trust with your team members by setting clear expectations, providing support and guidance, recognizing achievements, and learning from mistakes. Doing so can create a culture of trust and empowerment that will enable your team to achieve great things. With the right mindset and approach, you can guide your team to success and unleash their full potential.
Are you ready to take your organization’s leadership skills to the next level?
Action-Strategies-By-Design can build a leadership development program to help your managers build trust, create a coaching mentality, and balance dumping and micromanaging.
Contact us for more information on how we can take your organization to the next level.