Let’s go ahead and get a couple of things out in the open for those readers who already consider themselves master delegates. Sending your intern on a caffeine errand, as to “not lose time away from the desk,” is NOT delegation. It is more likely laziness. Also not delegation – dry cleaning, childcare, shopping, etc.
Unfortunately, this is the lens through which most people see the “art” of delegation. Here is what we need to do in our organizations: Remove goggles, spit, wipe thoroughly with soft cloth. Let’s start by understanding what delegation actually is. Then we can move on to discuss a few important levels of delegating.
"When you delegate a task, you create a follower. When you delegate authority, you create a leader."
Gerard M. Blair of the University of Edinburgh says, “Delegation is a skill of which we have all heard – but which few understand. It can be used either as an excuse for dumping failure onto the shoulders of subordinates, or as a dynamic tool for motivating and training your team to realize their full potential.”*
Simply put, delegation is a strong tool that enables you to empower your team while streamlining the execution of responsibilities across your organization. This helps you get things done more efficiently, and develops the skills and capabilities of your team towards their maximum potential.
3 LEVELS OF DELEGATION
When delegating a function, you should consider 3 levels: Activities, decisions, and responsibilities.
Think about this example — Once upon a time there was a manager. After some consideration, she gave a maintenance worker very clear instructions that he should empty a trashcan in the building every Tuesday and Friday. One mid-week evening, the manager noticed that the trash was overflowing in the hallway. This made her angry, because she had asked the employee to empty the trash. When the manager confronted the maintenance worker about the fountain of waste, he said, “Yes, I am aware. But I was going to empty it on Friday.”
I’m sure the critiques are already flying around in your head. And they should be. So let’s get right to it.
Activities (Basic) – These are simple tasks that can be done at a set time. You have taken out the trash before, and you understand the process involved. Now you can use your experience with this activity to make sure it is handled appropriately. By doing this, you have gained time for yourself to handle other leadership functions, while someone simultaneously becomes as good as you once were at the specific activity. But because some things – like taking out the trash – don’t have deadlines, there are better strategies.
Decisions (Intermediate) – Instead of setting a time and date for a task, allow the team member to empty the trash whenever necessary. While a regular schedule can help establish time management, leaving a decision to an employee will allow them to apply their personal and local knowledge to the problem. It is important to keep frontiers in place regarding which decisions are in play, in a way that the leader can live with the outcome. Defining these boundaries with more complicated decisions will take time and experience. But the time you save as a result of delegating – and the growth of the person involved – will more than make up for it.
Authority (Ultimate) – We have arrived at the holy grail of delegation. This doesn’t just include making decisions about how to execute a task. This happens when a team member is allowed to take ownership of the status of all trash cans in the building. When you delegate a task, you create a follower. When you delegate authority, you create a leader. When someone has been given something they can take ownership of, the weight of responsibility causes them to respond. Facilitate this process correctly, and watch your organization turn into a hub for young, talented, leaders. And in this case, a much cleaner office space!
SO REMEMBER THIS…
Delegating is a crucial tool for you to incorporate as leader. It is almost always a win-win situation. Increased efficiency, increased skills and capacity, increased leadership capabilities, increased happiness.
For now consider these questions when thinking about what you should or shouldn’t be delegating:
- Do I have an interest in being an expert in this area?
- Can I create an explanation of the process and all contingencies?
- If so, what role do I need to play for this person to succeed?
*Reference: Blair, Gerard M. “The Art of Delegation.” Delegation. School of Electronic Engineering, University of Edinburgh, n.d. Web. 08 Oct. 2014.