Have you noticed that the more you expand your leadership role, the less time you have? The hours keep piling up, and the number of projects you need to manage keeps growing. At the same time, the skill sets and range of tasks you’re expected to do are so varied you never get to specialize and perfect that one great skill. If that sounds like you, it’s possible you need to learn to delegate more and access the power of distributing collaborative work.
You might be an expert, and you’re probably the best at what you do, so why not do it yourself, right? It will be done faster and better than if you handed it off to someone else, and you’ll save the time and hassle of trying to get someone else to understand your vision.
The problem is that if you endlessly pile on responsibilities, the quality of those tasks will inevitably suffer. You cannot apply the same amount of effort to everything without burning out. It is also a waste of your team, who bring their unique and valuable skills to the table but may be under-utilized.
It’s time to break down those old habits of trying to carry the weight of the world and let some other shoulders bear the burden with you. You’ll get more done more efficiently, elevating the quality of your work and your level of impact on the organization while creating good habits for the future. Here are a few ways to break down old habits and build new ways to work with your team.
DO ELEVATE YOUR IMPACT
It’s always hard to become less involved in your work. You are the leader, the manager, the benchmark for how your team should and can work. You are essential, but that doesn’t mean you are the only one capable of getting the job done.
Inspiring others is rewarding, fulfilling, and contributes to the overall success of your team. A leader doesn’t need to “protect” the work – they must delegate and then guide it. You should have a sought-after perspective but not be dictating every facet or step of a project to your team. A gentle touch can elevate your impact without stepping on anyone’s toes.
Activate, don’t micro-manage. As a manager or supervisor, you are looked up to – your team will want to please you. If you help them understand what they need to do and why they need to do it, your employees will feel good about the work they do. Make sure that they know you are available to answer questions and provide guidance, and then step out of the way so they can own their work.
Delegation is also about prioritizing what you must do and what others can help with. There are probably lots of high-effort, high-priority tasks that are low-skill that you could pass off. Doing this will free you up to do the work that needs to be completed by you. Don’t delegate tasks that only you can do.
How many emails do you get a day? If you take two minutes to read, triage, and possibly respond to every email, what percentage of your day does that account for? If you’re leading a department or organization, you probably have several meetings each day as well. If you total the amount of time dedicated to email and the amount spent in meetings, what percentage of your week is left for the other work that needs to be done? Take a look at your to-do list, prioritize the items you MUST do, and delegate the rest to someone with fewer meetings or emails.
DON’T HANDOFF WITHOUT EXPLANATION
Delegation doesn’t mean just dropping a task in someone else’s lap but providing effective organizational leadership. If you think it’s a mess, your team will probably be even more lost than you are. When delegating any task, you must provide clear instructions, manage expectations, and check-in to see if additional guidance is needed. Your team will respect and follow your leadership if you delegate tasks effectively.
Take a step back and think about what your team already knows about the project. What is the 1-minute overview that you can provide to brief them about the overall task? Then move on to some ancillary direction. Inform them about those landmines that exist in every project that they might not be aware of, so they don’t end up tripping on something that could have been avoided!
Before you start delegating, get to know your team. Managers with an overflowing to-do list might not feel like they have the time, but it’s important to take the time to really dig into the particular skills and experiences of each of your team members. Take a look at their LinkedIn profiles so you can have an informed conversation about their past work and how it informs their immediate and future goals. You might find hidden talents or new directions so that delegated tasks won’t just be accomplished but will truly shine in the right hands.
Once you have built a foundation for a relationship, then it’s time to build trust. Create a feedback and review loop as soon as possible so you can review work and make smaller corrections early. It will help avoid the pain of larger edits, and your team feeling like they are being micromanaged or under-delivering when there was just a misalignment or misunderstanding of expectations.
DON’T FORGET TO PROVIDE CONTEXT
As a manager, you probably have greater insight into your organization’s long-term plans, objectives, and obstacles. You don’t need to share every detail, but put yourself in their shoes and think about what information would be helpful if this task were being delegated to you.
Context can help motivate – it’s hard to get excited about something when you think it will have zero impact on the team’s success. Something very important could be misunderstood as busywork without the correct framing, but make sure to balance the context – there’s no need to overwhelm yourself or your team with details. Identify what is immediately relevant and explain clearly why it’s important by tying it to the overall mission.
It’s a well-worn idiom, but you need to “teach a man to fish.” Just because you don’t have someone with the correct skills on hand doesn’t mean you need to take on the work yourself. Even an hour going over something and training could free hundreds of your overtime hours – saving you far more than the investment in teaching. Once you provide clarity on how to accomplish the task, confirm that you’re on the same page.
Each time you delegate, the amount of time you invest in handing off each task will decrease. So you won’t be spending hours every time you pass a task to another team member. You can also use these teaching moments to have your employees coach each other and create mentor/mentee relationships as well as promote cross-training so that employees are able to grow their skills.
DO MAKE IT A HABIT
Once you start delegating, don’t stop. When you plan your week or your day, think about each task ahead and ask “Am I the only one that can do this?” Your team will also get better at accepting new tasks and working through them with less oversight and guidance, making it easier for you to pass work to them.
Delegating some of your daily tasks will let you focus on the larger goals and the work that you really enjoy doing. Successful delegation allows you to clear away some of the clutter and make sure that you are setting a direction and example for the rest of your team.
BONUS: JUST SAY NO.
Sometimes things are on your to-do list that shouldn’t be there at all. As a leader, you also need to protect your team (and yourself!) from work that shouldn’t be done at all. “No, but…” and “Yes, if…” are great phrases to tape next to your monitor. The next time you get a request that isn’t quite in line with your goals you can negotiate an outcome that will lead to success for you and your team.
Delegation will empower your employees, and let you realize your full potential as a manager. Your leadership will define the direction and outcomes of your work. Without delegation, your leadership will suffer and your team will notice. If you would like to implement these strategies more effectively for your team and your organization, we can help. Antioch offers fully online and low-residency, professional certificate, graduate, and doctorate programs that can help you gain the skills you need to lead effectively and implement strong organizational change.