Over the years, I’ve experimented with many different approaches to find a delegation style that works best for me…which means first finding a lot of ways that don’t work along the way:
Delegation ≠ Abdication.
It doesn’t work well for them when I just toss it over the fence without direction or follow up.
Delegation ≠ Micromanagement.
It doesn’t work for me (or them) to hand it off and then be all up in their business on every little thing, all the time.
Delegation ≠ Mutual Mind-reading.
It doesn’t work for either of us when clear vision and expectations are not communicated up front and reinforced along the way.
When things work well without much friction, I consistently find I am leveraging a little more time up front to save a whole lot of time further down the road; the consummate slow down to speed up. Here are a few things I’ve learned (and still learning) that make having others take care of my baby less fraughtful.
Delegate Roles not Tasks; Outcomes not Things.
When I delegate tasks, things to do, I inherently am the only one capable of making a decision. I handicap my colleague’s ability to have any agency, leading to the self-imposed frustration of “Can’t anyone make a decision around here? Why is everything and everyone so dependent on me?!?” And like most things, the answer is clearly found in the mirror. On the other side, when I hand off (and clearly communicate) the ownership of outcome I’m trying to achieve and the responsibility for what it takes to get across the finish line, they can take pride in their work, in their autonomy, in my trust.
Faster/Better is a Myth
How many times have you uttered these words, “I can just do it faster myself” and it is entirely true. I’d also add “Nobody can do it as well as me” to the greatest hits soundtrack. The first time…and maybe even the third, but unfortunately as leaders, the number and complexity of things requiring our attention only goes in one direction. I know for me, the things on the bottom of my list that I can do faster/better, inevitably get less and less attention until I’m doing them half-way or not at all. At which point, I could do it faster/better, but am actually not.
Right Role for the Right Person
Everyone has different approaches, abilities, and strengths. I find there are Painters, Builders, Fixers, Optimizers, and Maintainers, and the fastest path to frustration for all involved is something like asking a Maintainer to “figure something out” or a Builder to just “do it the way it’s always been done”. When I understand their style, skills, and stage, and I adjust the role’s outcome to line up appropriately, I get frustrated and disappointed a lot less often. I like to make my team stretch and grow with big projects, but I also need to make sure they are only reaching 1 or maybe 2 rungs up the ladder from where they are, otherwise they are destined to fail.
Ensure Mutual Understanding Around:
Definition of Done:
It’s extremely frustrating for everyone, when they come back and say, “Here ya go.” and you look down and respond with a “What the heck is this?”. Like a dog bringing back a bone and the owner saying, “Bad dog, that’s not the right bone.” when they never showed or specified which one to actually get. When both sides are crystal clear on what successfully complete looks like, Fido won’t be looking for praise after dragging back roadkill.
Many of us have heard the “Good, Fast, Cheap; pick 2”…but I think fewer likely abide by “What, How, When; pick 2”. When there is a good dialogue (and not monologue) around What needs to be done, How it could be done, and When it needs to be done by, some unseen obstacle or opportunity inevitably bubbles up, transforming future frustrations into leverageable assets. It’s a big challenge if as a leader, we dictate all three.
What’s off limits? The deadline? The approach? The outcome? When there is clear consensus on what is completely and totally non-negotiable, creative constraints are created enabling much more creative problem solving around the things that are negotiable and changeable. The times this is done really well, is when my team comes back with solutions that absolutely blow my mind and are better and beyond anything I could have ever imagined.
Communication & Feedback Loop:
How often and when will I be checking in with them on progress? What type of roadblocks should they come back for guidance on versus persevering and problem solving? I’ve learned my default style here is “Here’s the ball, I’ll see you in the end zone” because that’s my delegation love language, that’s how I want someone to delegate to me…but I find that’s not the style for very many people.
What happens if we fail? If we miss the deadline? If we don’t hit the mark? Everyone is busy and constantly shifting priorities, so it’s my job to make sure my team knows which of the juggling balls are made of rubber and which are of glass. Which can flex and bend and which are rigid…and what will happen if we aren’t successful.
I find delegation to definitely be 2 parts science, 1 part art. Anything with people requires some psychology judo, but if I don’t do the work up front, I am almost always disappointed. If I consistently complete this checklist of things, I get more consistently positive outcomes…and a much more empowergized team.
What is your delegation love language and how is that impacting the way you delegate?
What approach can you work on a little more the next time you delegate to your team?