If you want to have a truly exceptional team, you must empower them to accomplish goals and take the lead. To do this, great leaders must learn the hard lesson of letting go and understanding what they can’t and shouldn’t do.
Companies whose leaders possess delegation skills operate more effectively, and the power of a successful CEO often comes from their ability to hand off tasks to the right person. Unsurprisingly, this frees managers from routine tasks and allows them to devote more time to strategic issues.
Throughout my leadership career, I’ve gained many insights into the power of delegation. These are the rules I’ve developed when I need to pass on a particular responsibility to someone else.
1. Choose the right person for the job.
Before assigning a task, ensure you’ve picked someone with the necessary skills and motivation to succeed. This includes considering their strengths and weaknesses as well as their career goals, workload, and interests. For example, if someone excels at organization and working with data, don’t give the annual report spreadsheets to someone else who hates being tied to their desk for hours.
2. Follow the SMART goal-setting system.
Remember that the task’s success is directly impacted by how you formulate each step. It’s also worth noting that collaboratively setting the goals for a project can enhance an employee’s performance, cultivating a sense of ownership and increasing the employee’s morale and motivation. Be sure to clearly explain the task, and to clarify how the results will be evaluated. Also, it is important that you set an attainable deadline.
3. Set intermediate deadlines.
Independence is a trait I value, so everyone I hire can self-start and work autonomously. However, as the leader, it’s ultimately my responsibility to ensure that projects are delivered correctly and on time.
This means that if a project is complex or an employee is new, I build time into my schedule to check in about the status of a task somewhere around the middle of the process. I’ll outline smaller milestone goals leading up to this check-in and make sure to ask if they have any concerns and feel like they are on track to meet the final deadline.
Establishing intermediate goals is especially important for new hires because they are already under considerable pressure from getting used to a new work environment. Many often feel they shouldn’t “bother” management or peers with too many questions. Taking this extra time with them helps to clarify expectations and align their motivation with your business goals.
4. Avoid the temptation to micromanage.
CEOs often have a hard time letting go. Even if they delegate, seeing them step in to “help” with a project they’ve chosen to delegate feels normal. Remember: The goal is to have more free time for bigger tasks, not worrying about the small ones.
Delegation only works if you don’t interfere with the process. If you’ve chosen people well and laid out clear expectations, standing over their shoulders is pointless. This can hinder progress and make employees feel like they aren’t doing a good enough job, which is frustrating and demotivating. Research suggests that 68% of employees say micromanaging decreases morale, 55% say they are less productive when micromanaged, and 36% have even resigned because of it.
5. Leave wiggle room in your timetable.
It’s always better to schedule more time than you think your team will need to complete a project. If you know it will take you a week to finish the task, then you should not expect a subordinate with less experience to do it faster or at the same pace.
Employees rarely ask for extensions or say a deadline isn’t feasible, instead, they are likely to choose to endure excess stress and overwork themselves, which ultimately leads to worse results and burnout. To prevent this, build in at least 50% more time in case revisions are needed or challenges arise. So, if it takes you one week, set a deadline for at least 1.5 weeks, especially if the project is client-centered. It’s always better to underpromise and over-deliver.
6. Use mistakes as teachable moments.
One of the goals of delegation is to strengthen and develop your team. By giving your team more responsibilities, you are helping them expand their capabilities and grow personally and professionally. This is why it’s so important to be as hands-off as possible.
No matter how tempting it is to take over and fix a mistake, the correct course of action is to offer constructive criticism and help them course correct. They will be far less likely to repeat an error if they learn hands-on. Also, if they feel comfortable sharing information about their mistakes with other team members, the whole team can learn from the mistake, and everyone’s performance will improve as a result.
7. Don’t neglect in-the-moment feedback.
As soon as possible, after completing a task, find time to discuss how the process went with the person to whom you delegated a task. Be sure to ask about any difficulties that came up and find out whether they enjoyed the experience and if they would be interested in further development in that direction.
Sometimes, an employee may think they’re interested in pursuing a path in line with your task, such as social media management. However, at the end of the project, they may find they didn’t like it as much as they expected. If you don’t have these candid conversations, you may mistakenly assign them to similar tasks in the future, believing they will be happy with the assignment, and because they might not feel comfortable telling you otherwise, the work’s quality will suffer, and the employee’s morale will be damaged.
Dina Mostovaya is an award-winning global cultural and communications consultant and founder of Madrid-based consulting firm Mindset Consulting. For 15 years, she has been helping technology companies and startups develop and implement strategic communications in the U.S. and across Europe. Dina is a member of the Global Women in PR Association, the TEDxWaterStreet’s Advisory Board, and a Judge of The International Business Awards 2022 by Stevie Awards. She was named the Best Woman in PR by the International Davos Communications Awards 2022. In 2020, she was shortlisted for the Impact Award by GWPR.
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