An Essential Manager/Leader Skills article. The term leader/manager or manager/leader is used interchangeably. In the normal course of events within an organization people assigned to a management or a leadership role call upon the skills ascribed to both leader and manager. There are times when the person leads, and other times when he manages; and other times when he leads and manages at the same time. When one steps into a management position, management skills are primarily required. When the person moves into a more senior position, leadership skills come more to the fore. The focus of this series is on the “essential” or “foundational” skills required for one moving into a management or leadership role. Hence the term leader/manager or manager/leader is used.
Delegation is an essential management and leadership skill. In organizational terms it is the transfer of authority and responsibility to another. In its truest form it isn’t about empowering others. It is simply passing on tasks for others to do. In brief, delegation is something you “do” to people, whereas empowerment is something people do for “themselves.” Empowerment is more of an intrinsic act and involves taking increasing ownership through self-actualization and initiative. We delegate tasks and the authority to do the tasks; we empower employees to take initiative to complete tasks without delegating them.
A major cause of poor time management and stress management is often a leader/manager’s unwillingness or inability to delegate responsibility to employees. Delegation allows leader/managers to: concentrate on their overall responsibilities, focus on critical opportunities, motivate others, and get the job done. Simply put it is getting the job done through the efforts of others. It’s all about developing and supporting strong teamwork.
A leader/manager has a job to do which is bigger than what she can achieve alone. Therefore, she needs to delegate it to someone on the team. Dr. Peter Honey, a well-respected Occupational Psychologist, points out in his book 101 Ways of Developing People Without Really Trying, when a leader/manager delegates she balances two important factors:
1. The responsibilities or tasks someone else completes on the leader/manager’s behalf; and
2. The authority (or powers) given to the person to carry out the responsibilities.
When the delegator focuses attention on delegating responsibilities (the first factor), there is greater potential for development of the person's skills and abilities. The first course of action for the delegator is to match the individual's capabilities with the delegated tasks. Secondly, when the delegator sees an opportunity to encourage development, she delegates responsibilities that require the person to stretch his capabilities. In this instance, the delegator needs to watch that she doesn’t put the delegated task out of reach of the person’s skill level.
The second factor means the delegator needs to 'let go' and give the individual authority to complete the job without further assistance from the delegator. This allows for authentic delegation and gives an equal blending of the two factors. Now let’s clarify the delegation process.
The Delegation Process
Delegation just doesn’t happen. It is a conscious effort on the part of a leader/manager to get work done. What I found during my coaching sessions was leader/manager uncertainty about how to delegate appropriately. For many of them they just dumped stuff onto to their employees, and others got some aspects of delegation right but lacked consistency. Here are five steps to delegation which should help clarify the process.
1. Sort out the tasks you wish to delegate and define them. Here you are seeking clarity about the tasks you need to complete and the time line in which you need to complete them. The definition of the task is important as it reduces confusion going forward. Often tasks are delegated without clarity. An example of this is when the manager places something on the desk of one of his team members and says, “Will you do this?” without explaining what “this” is, and without giving any indication when the task is expected to be completed. Whenever possible the best time to sort out the tasks is 15 minutes before you leave the office or the night before. This way you can get your work moving first thing in the morning.
2. Identify the delegatee. When you consider who you want to delegate the task to, keep in mind the skill level of the individual. You are asking yourself this simple question, “can the individual do the job you are asking him to do?” If not, then further clarification is required. Sometimes things don’t get done because the individual doesn’t know how to do them and is afraid to ask. So, if you don’t know you need to ask the individual if he can complete the task. If the person doesn’t know how to complete the task this becomes a learning opportunity. If the person does know, then delegate. However, be careful about delegating tasks only to those who know, as those that don’t will never learn. Also, watch whether you delegate only to those located close to you. If you consistently do this, you may lose an opportunity to develop your team members who work in other locations.
3. Set the priorities and time frame for completion. A practice many managers have is what I call stacking – stacking delegated work on people’s desks without setting priorities and time frames for the work. It goes something like this: “will you do this?” and a bit later, “here’s another one for you,” and an hour later another one lands on the desk. Then the manager comes back and says, “have you got this done?” What should the manager do in these cases? Whenever possible she should delegate all the known tasks at one time, set the priorities and the time frames for completion. This allows the delegatee to plan their workload, set their own priorities and work on their most important task. During the day, however, tasks do pop-up without warning. In these situations, make sure the task is important and urgent, communicate this to the person, and set a time for its completion.
4. Let go, Monitor, Revise when necessary, and Encourage. Once the task is delegated and you are confident the delegatee can do the work – you need to let it go. Allow the person to do the work. You are delegating “what” needs to be done, and not “how” it should be done – unless the delegatee doesn’t have the skills to do the job. Letting go allows the delegatee to develop, test abilities, and initiate a different way of getting the job done. This latter is an important concept as often the delegatee has a better way of doing things than the manager. If you have concerns about the skill level, monitor the delegatee by checking back periodically but don’t interfere with the work. Allow growth to take place. Encourage and develop rather than control and seek perfection.
5. Review upon completion. Once the task is completed by the delegatee and the work is back on your desk, or a report is provided to you that the job is done, then it’s time to assess performance. A job well done deserves praise. A job that isn’t, requires more work on your part. Before blame (which should never be part of the review) comes self-assessment. Did you carry out the first four steps in the process correctly? If you did, you should have caught problems before the completion of the task. If you were allowing the person to make mistakes, then the question that needs to be explored is “what did you learn from the experience?” and “how can you improve next time.” It is all about developing team members and giving them room to grow in place and time.
Note: My next article will explore the concepts of delegated authority and accountability. In the meantime, review the five steps of the delegation process and apply the relevant ones to your practice.
Thanks for reading,
Author: Richard P. Fontanie