If you want to do a few small things right, do them yourself. If you want to do great things and make a big impact, learn to delegate
– John Maxwell
“Tom, can you handle this for me?”
Carol is a new sales executive who volunteered to sponsor a new product. She is overscheduled learning her new role, yet she understands this new product is an opportunity to partner with peers and build her brand. Carol quickly accepted the assignment and elected to get the details later.
Tom, one of Carol’s direct reports, meets Carol in the hallway. She asks “I know you are busy, Tom. Can you look at this product idea and tell me if it would work?” Tom looks down and responds “I guess so” even though he is overcommitted in his role. Carol says thanks and takes off to her next meeting.
Tom is left to think about the questions he should have asked and how he will meet this commitment. Could he have said no? What is the due date? What does she mean “would the product work?” Be profitable, provide better service? He is overwhelmed with unanswered questions and disappointed at how he handled the situation. He determines it would take too long to ask someone else to help him handle this request – might as well just do it himself.
Both Carol and Tom are guilty of ineffective delegation. Carol needed a better understanding of the work and a smoother handoff. Tom poorly received the assignment, passively accepting the task without clarifying expectations and electing to go solo. An ineffective process leading to a poor outcome.
Effective leaders ask the following question when work arrives:
Should I lead through delegation or follow by doing?
Work is like water – too much poured into a full container spills over and leaves a mess. The mess includes oblivious givers and depleted takers, overdependency on leaders, underdeveloped teams, and poor results. This is not a great place to work.
Fact – effective leaders are both leaders and doers. The competitive, knowledge-driven world requires us to be a player AND manager. We need to perform some technical work to remain relevant, and earn respect from others. But, we have limited capacity and need to route work to others. Determining the right blend of leading and doing has never been more important.
First, let’s look at doing. David Allen in his book, “Getting Things Done,” recommends if a task takes two minutes or less to do – do it. For example, a routine email request that requires a quick response. If the task requires more than two minutes, delegate or defer it. Defer when you need time to think – consider if you can stop doing the task.
Delegation is the greatest productivity tool for leaders. The three phases are assigning responsibility, providing authority, and retaining accountability.
“Tom, I want you to handle this new product idea since this is in your area of expertise. I need your recommendation in thirty days and you don’t need to check with me unless the cost exceeds $5,000. I really appreciate your leadership on this and together we will get this done.”
Let’s look at two perspectives of delegation – giving work to others and taking work yourself.
Three Key Questions to Effective Delegation – What, Who & How
- What are tasks I have that can be delegated to others?
- Who has the expertise, reliability, and availability to perform these tasks?
- How do I clearly define responsibility, provide authority and not micromanage, and be personally accountable for the final result
Three Examples of Effectively Receiving Delegated Work
- Affirm – I understand you need resources and would like to help you
- Capacity – I am currently at full capacity… how would you like me to change priorities?
- Collaboration – I can assist once I finish a few priorities… if you can start the project I can join the team in two weeks
Leadership is not a zero sum role. Leading requires a give-and-take, lead and follow. Carol can increase her effectiveness by learning how to give work to others and take responsibility to better understand the work request. Tom needs to give affirmation and take greater responsibility to clarify his workload and priorities.
Give yourself the gift of effective delegation – do it now.
Have a great week!
Building Generous Leaders & Healthy Organizations