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Leadership Development: The Art and Science of Delegating

by Dan Stotz in Leadership Development January 30, 2021

What do excellent leaders have in common? They have mastered the art and science of delegating. For most of us, delegating is not easy. We often assume that no one else can do the project or task as good as we can do it—or as fast as we can do it. We typically think that we’re improving our productivity by just doing it ourselves. This is a mistake.

Why should we delegate? There are three reasons. First, delegating the “right” projects to someone else is an effective way to help the other person develop new and important skills. We especially need to delegate the tasks that are no longer developmental for us but would be developmental to the others in the organization. Delegating in the “right way” will help us inspire, develop, and retain our top-performing employees.

Second, effectively delegating to others will free up our time to take on new and challenging activities. Projects that are both important to the organization and developmental for us. If we’re smart, we will also delegate as a way to effectively manage our time and our stress. We will talk more about managing time and stress in an upcoming TLC blog.

Third, and most importantly, effectively delegating at work will help us spend more quality time with our family. It’s important to remember that there is no success at work that’s worth a failure at home. Excellent leaders know how to take control of their calendars. And, they typically have a copy of David Allen’s book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity somewhere on their desk.

What should we delegate? There’s a big difference between delegating and effectively delegating. To truly delegate effectively, we need to let go of three precious items—responsibility, accountability, and authority. The key is to delegate the responsibility to a single person, not a team and we should publicly communicate to the entire organization that the new person is now in charge.

The best way to delegate accountability and authority is to give the person control over all budget decisions. As leaders, we need to provide clarity on who is accountable by letting the new person define the project’s scope and desired outcomes. Delegating authority means that person now has total control over the project’s schedule, and more importantly—the budget.

How should we delegate? As leaders, we need to clearly tell the new person in charge the “why” and the “what” of the project but we should never tell them “how” to do it. For many of us, this is very hard to do because we think we’re helping the person when we tell them how to do it. I think it’s the worst thing we can do to someone—especially if it’s a high-performing employee. When we tell them the “how” of the project, what they hear and feel instead is that we don’t trust them. Telling them the “how” will demotivate the person and hurt the organization because the person would probably do the project better than us if given the chance.

Delegating an important project to someone else doesn’t mean we abandon them. Excellent leaders provide clarity on the format and timing of communications they expect from the new project leader. However, communication requests are usually kept at a minimum and focus on the mission-critical aspects of the project.

In summary, when we delegate an important project or task, we should clearly tell the other person the project’s “why” and the “what” but never the “how.” We have to delegate the responsibility, the accountability, and the authority. We also need to provide clarity on the desired communication levels and formats.

I strongly believe that effectively delegating to others has the potential to be a life-changing leadership skill. It will help you be more productive. It will help you manage your stress. And, it will help others in the organization develop important knowledge and skills. Good luck!


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