Mastering the art of delegation

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Delegation can be defined as the assignment of responsibility and accountability for specific outcomes or achievements to a specific individual or organisation unit. The delegation can be temporary or permanent. It is a key skill for all leaders, and necessary for any person wanting to get ahead. If you ever feel stressed and overwhelmed or as though your career or business has become stagnant, then it is time to sharpen those delegation skills.

Understanding delegation

Delegation is not the giving out of tasks or “jobs to be done”. Normally, a delegated task takes more than a short timeframe to complete. It does not involve telling people what to do, rather it involves explaining the outcomes and results they are expected to achieve. They are then expected to work out the “how” and the steps involved.

Delegation does not mean abdication of responsibility and or accountability by the delegating authority. The manager or team leader making the delegation is still involved.

However, the extent of that involvement will vary depending on the existing knowledge and skill levels of the employee receiving the delegation. If the employee is very experienced, the manager’s involvement will be minimal. If the employee is inexperienced, the manager may provide more support, as the delegation is clearly being treated as a development exercise. In either case, the person receiving the delegation decides what has to be done to achieve the desired result. It is the level of guidance provided by the manager or team leader that varies.

Why do we delegate?

Delegation allows you time to focus on the things that only you can do, and allows the business and the people within the business to grow. Without delegation, the business and your team cannot grow. Delegation allows:

Leader to manage time, productivity and opportunity;

Increase accomplishment of tasks and or duties;

Leader to get to important things on the “back burner”;

Development of a critical leadership skill

Development of staff skills and create career opportunities;

Improvement of team functioning;

Improvement of staff morale and productivity

However, for many people this is incredibly hard to do. One thing to note is, no matter how efficient and masterful you are at your job, you have the same amount of hours in the day as your colleagues.

There are only so many tasks you can achieve within the same timeframe, so to free yourself up and lighten the load, you are going to need a little help from your friends.

It goes without saying that the people who are best at their work are often given more work, and this can often lead to a sense of pressure and a feeling of being out of control. If this is you, please know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, provided you are willing to seek it.

Why people do not delegate

There are a lot of reasons why people do not delegate: You might think you do not have the time to train someone else; you fear losing control; you are concerned someone else will get the credit; you will lose the jobs you actually enjoy; you can do it better and you do not trust others enough that they will do a satisfactory job.
These reasons are all valid, but unless you find a way through them, then nothing will change. The first step is acceptance. Accepting that yes, others probably will not do it as well as you, and they will most likely do it differently.

Big deal. The aim here is not perfection — the aim is to save you time.

If you are worried about losing control or giving someone else the credit, then you are managing from ego and that is never the best way to lead. Seek joy in watching others achieve a task that was once yours — you are giving a gift of empowerment and that is a beautiful thing.

Be aware that when you first start to delegate, the task will take longer for that person. This is simply because you are an expert, and your colleague still has his or her training wheels on. Be patient: They will get there and soon become more competent and efficient

Delegation and motivation

Many motivational theories point to the importance of accountability and responsibility in determining employee behaviour. Employees feel more involved and engaged if they feel they are being trusted with important responsibilities or activities. If they are required to think about the task, consider alternatives and make choices, the work itself becomes far more rewarding.

Too many team leaders and managers see the allocation of tasks as delegation. Whilst the dividing up and allocation of work tasks is still essential, it should not be confused with delegation. As the delegation definition shows, there is a subtle but important distinction.

Responsibility and accountability are important. So is thinking about the work you are doing. It can make even mundane tasks more interesting. Rather than delegate, many managers and team leaders state that it is easier to “do it myself”. Past delegation failures lead to the belief that “it is quicker and easier to do it myself”.

Delegation is not easy. However, that is an excuse rather than a reason. Today’s work practices encourage a “do it myself” approach — think, for example, as to how many people do their own word processing.

If uneven workloads exist, a review of the delegations in place is warranted. Effective delegation is an important leadership skill. Effective leaders use delegation to balance workloads and provide staff development opportunities. Good delegation creates a positive, motivating environment.

Mandeya is an executive coach, trainer in human capital development and corporate education, a certified leadership and professional development practitioner and founder of the Leadership Institute for Research and Development (LiRD). — robert@lird.co.zw, info@lird.co.zw or +263 772 466 925.

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