How To Delegate: A Roadmap for Leaders and Coaches

As an executive coach, I’m often approached by leaders who want to improve their skills at delegating effectively.  Increasingly, in the pace of business today, employees at all levels are being asked to perform more, with less authority and fewer resources than necessary.  This is where delegation comes in, and there are two types of delegation to master:
1.  The art of delegating to direct reports
2.  The art of delegating through influence

The art of delegating to direct reports

Sometimes you have a team of people to whom you can delegate tasks.  You have authority over them, they report to you, or you have some control over their ratings, performance reviews, promotions, or career trajectory. In this case, they are expecting direction, instruction, delegation and leadership from you.  Your job is to be clear about the item, the impact, and the importance of what you’re asking others to do.

Prior to delegating: THINK

What is the best use of me?  It is important to answer this question FIRST.  Once you know where you should be allocating your time and attention, you can more easily identify those areas to outsource and delegate to others.
What is the specific task I’d like handled?
What skills, strengths, knowledge, and mindsets are needed to best accomplish that task?
Who do I have on my team who is best suited to that task?
Who do I have on my team for which this could be a development/growth opportunity?
What conversations do I need to have with whom to get this task handled?
Why is it important?

Steps of Delegation: Once you know what you want done and who you’d like to do it…

1.  Be clear and specific about what your expectations are for the task you’re asking the person to do.
2.  Make sure your request includes a specific what, by when, and how you’ll know.  In other words; what do you want that person to do, what is the deadline, and what are the conditions of satisfaction…how will you know if it’s done to meet your expectations?
3.  Help the person understand and own why the task is important.  Provide context and where it fits into a bigger, meaningful objective or outcome.  Ask them to repeat back to you what they heard that you’ve asked of them so you can confirm that they “get it”.  If they accept the request, they are making a commitment or promise regarding the fulfillment of that request, and it is important to discuss and agree upon when and if they can renegotiate that commitment as well as how to hold them accountable.
4.  Discuss your expectations around autonomy, task completion, accountability, success and communication.  What does success look like? How frequently do you want to meet for updates if at all? What is the best way for them to reach you? What type of information would you like, in what format, and how frequently? Is it okay for them to ask you for help?
5.  If there is a long lead time on the project, you might establish regular checkpoints or milestones along the way to ensure the progress and be able to course-correct if there are roadblocks or obstacles or breakdowns along the way.
6.  Identify and express how you want to be informed about problems, snags, breakdowns.  Do you want them to tell you as soon as they become aware?  Do you want them to try to fix it and tell you about it only after it’s handled? Make it safe for the person to know how to handle problems, failures, issues, or other challenges that might come up. How early and often do you want to be engaged, or how hands-off do you want to be?
7.  Discuss whose job it is to declare the project or task finished.
8.  Celebrate accomplishments! Be sure to praise, recognize, acknowledge, and celebrate the successful completion of the task or project as appropriate to the scope of the delegation. You wouldn’t give someone a bonus just for creating a spreadsheet, but a few kind words to express your gratitude and to share with the person the specific behavior, action, or skill they demonstrated in the successful completion of the task and the importance/ impact of their contribution will go a long way towards employee engagement!

The art of delegating through influence

Sometimes leaders have initiatives, projects, or client opportunities that require delegating to people who don’t report to them.  In these cases where a leader has no direct authority, getting anybody to do what you’d like them to do depends on your ability to influence.
The steps above are also helpful in situations of delegating through influence, although you may be better served by the article I wrote on The Art of Building Coalition, which you can access and download directly from here.

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