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Effective Delegation: A Leadership Strategy

You can't do it alone. Don't delude yourself that it will be quicker or cheaper if you just take care of it. Maybe for today, but what will you fail to accomplish that is more important? Failure to delegate effectively can stall a career, slow business growth, and allow the narrow windows of opportunity to slam shut before you get to them.

What is your highest value contribution? Which of your activities brings in the most revenue, profit, or market share? Just because you excel at something doesn't mean you should do it. It's the old 80/20 rule. Choose your 20% carefully. Your greatest leverage is in mobilizing your staff or outsourcing effectively.

How do you know when to delegate? Here are four questions to ask yourself.

1. Can someone else do it better, faster, or cheaper?

One of my clients was struggling with editing an employee manual while trying to juggle strategic planning and a new product launch. He's a sometime writer who has a penchant for reading and editing, as he says, "every last word that goes out the door." What a waste. A top notch editor could be hired to quickly complete the task. So could his able assistant. His operation is small but this sort of nit picking indicates a serious affliction, an inability to let go.

It required a combination of numbers crunching, evaluation of in-house talent, and serious reflection for him to finally, with clenched teeth, begin delegating. The numbers were proof that he could save time and money and focus on more critical priorities. The difficult part was prying his fingers off the "control switch."

For him it was both an ego and control issue. He wanted to be positive that everything was "right" and somehow felt he alone knew exactly "how" it should be done.

2. Can delegating provide time for you to do more important things?

Another great fear, especially of entrepreneurs, is that delegation will make them redundant. You may have such competent staff that things can run yes, without you. Don't abdicate. Leaders need to lead. What is the highest and greatest personal value you bring to the business?

If you're a startup or one to ten person organization you need to be bringing in business and growing. Get someone else to design brochures, handle public relations, or anything else that robs valuable marketing and sales time. (Unless of course one of the aforementioned is your business.)

One of my coaching clients hired me specifically to help her with personal productivity. She felt at loose ends. Working diligently, 70-80 hours a week, she had built her company to a point where day-to-day operations didn't really require her. She needed to monitor but release the day-to-day activities and focus on the future. Part of her problem was worrying about what people would think. She didn't look busy.

Creating vision, setting the direction, hiring the right people and motivating them to rise to new challenges is a different kind of work. It may appear less busy and more relaxed but the cogitation factor is intense. Once she viewed her position differently she was able to let go, and measure her personal productivity in new ways.

Can delegating help develop your employees?

Delegating allows others to gain skill, experience, and confidence. We learn by doing.

Some years ago when I went to pick up my three year old from Montessori school she was excited about something new she had learned. She could put on her heavy winter coat all by herself. She placed the coat, button side up, on the floor facing away from her. Leaning over, she put a hand into each sleeve and in one quick motion hoisted the coat up over her head, the sleeves slipped up her arms and there she stood, ready to go home, grinning with pride and new found confidence.

Too often we underestimate what people can accomplish. We make assumptions based on our own limitations. I knew only one way to put on a coat and my daughter couldn't do it without struggling. With this new method she put on her coat faster than I did mine.

Effective delegation can build loyalty and a stronger team while increasing the group's skill and knowledge. It's good management. Meanwhile, you'll be free to focus on your priorities.

Delegation is not dumping. Successful delegation has four components.

1. Give the job to someone who can get it done.

This doesn't assume that he/she has all the necessary skills or resources for execution. Pick someone who is motivated and capable. If they need training, get it. You'll be adding to the strength and knowledge base of your team.

Maximize strategic outsourcing. Find competent people or companies in technology, public relations, marketing, design, finance, or whatever you need. Interview several, and find the right fit for your business needs.

2. Communicate precise expectations.

Timeframes, budgets, and anticipated outcomes must be clearly spelled out. Lack of parameters is a set up for failure. Notice that I didn't say, "Tell them how you want it done." If it's your way or the highway it's not delegation. Remember there is more than one right way to accomplish most tasks. Focus on results.

3. Set up a plan - a structure for accountability.

The plan includes all the things in number two plus milestones and measurements. Be sure to set up times for conferences or e-mailed status reports. (These should be brief - just an update - don't micro-manage.) If changes need to be made along the way you can avoid derailment. Be available however if guidance is needed.

4. Measure outcomes.

Setbacks occur, situations change, but be sure to measure outcomes within reasonable parameters. Today's excuse becomes tomorrow's failure. If you're holding someone else's feet to the fire just be sure the fire isn't your fault.

Leaders by nature tend to be controlling. Letting go is risky and scary. Faith in yourself and your ability to select the right people is imperative. When your name is on the door everything seems personal, but this is business. Use effective delegation as a leadership strategy to get your organization to the next level.

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Linda Nash
Linda Nash is a nationally recognized consultant, speaker and author in the areas of change and resilience. To receive her free E-zine Bouncing Back go to www.Lindanash.com  To contact Linda call
314.872.8787 or e-mail Linda@Lindanash.com

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Linda Nash
1010 Thoreau Court, Suite 310
St. Louis, MO  63146
Ph: 314.872.8787  |  800.701.9782
linda@lindanash.com | www.LindaNash.com 

Copyright 2000 by Linda Nash. All rights reserved. You may not reproduce this material without explicit prior written permission.