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How Leaders Can Know What to Delegate and What Not To
Effective leaders know how to delegate, and they understand why their time is too valuable to spend on certain tasks.
Good delegation empowers people and produces better business results.
Good delegating is good for business, too. A 2015 Gallup study of 143 Inc. 500 CEOs found that executives who delegate effectively have companies that grow faster, produce more revenue, and create more jobs.
But it’s not always easy to know what to delegate and what to tackle yourself. The cost of your time is one factor to consider, but there are others. Good delegation is empowering and helps create a culture of confidence and autonomy. Here’s what leaders should know about effectively delegating.
Good Delegation Practices
Leaders who delegate effectively do several things right:
- They delegate to the right person – someone who has the capacity, is ready for a challenge, and who benefits from developing the skill.
- They clearly define the task and the level of autonomy.
- They describe the exact results they want, why the task is important, and what “done well” looks like.
- They ensure the person delegated to has the resources necessary to do the job.
- They define milestones and checkpoints for feedback with complex tasks.
- They encourage innovative methods for accomplishing goals.
- They provide an encouraging environment.
- They tolerate reasonable risks and mistakes, seeing them as learning opportunities.
Levels of Delegation
Delegation doesn’t have to be all or nothing. It’s possible to ease a person into a new role by increasing their level of responsibility in a stepwise fashion. For example, a leader may choose to work up through several levels of delegation:
- Asking a subordinate to present potential solutions or decisions
- Asking the subordinate to present potential solutions and say what they consider the right choice
- Allowing the subordinate to proceed in a course of action unless they hear otherwise
- Allowing the subordinate to complete a task before reporting back on what they did
- Giving the subordinate full autonomy over a task
Things Leaders Should Delegate
Even CTOs must rely on the expertise of their IT teams to ensure technology runs as it should.
Some tasks simply require specialized skills, and the wise CEO understands why these tasks need to be completed by people who are trained for the job. Some examples of tasks that top leaders should almost always delegate include:
- Creative work. The CEO may, for example, choose a new logo from among those developed by creative professionals. Executives shouldn’t micromanage this process, but let the professionals use their talents and training.
- IT. Rare is the CEO who understands the level of complexity involved in keeping a company’s IT infrastructure up and running. This is a task that requires highly specialized skills.
- Handling email. Email is important, but executive time can be spent in better ways. It’s far better to have an assistant who understands how to separate routine email handling from email handling that must be done by the executive him- or herself.
- Legal matters. Investing in qualified legal resources can potentially save the company from major headaches and legal missteps.
Things Leaders Should Not Delegate
Knowing what to delegate is important. Equally important is knowing what not to delegate. For example, top-level executives should not delegate high-stakes hiring decisions – particularly for positions that report directly to the executive.
Executives should not delegate tasks that are clearly within their defined responsibilities. A CFO, in other words, should not delegate decisions related to the financial health of the business, and a CMO should not delegate a major change to the company’s marketing strategy. Every executive must know where the buck stops with every relevant decision, and if it’s with them, then they must take full responsibility for it.
Leadership development programs should include modules on effective delegation because it is such an important leadership skill. It’s not always easy for leaders to let go of control and allow others to complete certain tasks or make certain decisions. The leader who insists on managing every single decision in their chain of command will spread themselves too thin and deny subordinates reasonable levels of autonomy.
An effective delegator contributes to a company culture of empowerment and innovation, helping subordinates increase their confidence and build their own skills, to everyone’s benefit. Leadership coaching can help the executive who has trouble delegating by working through control issues and practicing effective delegation until it becomes ingrained.