By Lary Kirchenbauer
“The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick
good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough
to keep from meddling with them while they do it.”
~ Theodore Roosevelt
How many times have you mumbled to yourself about your inadequate delegation skills … how a project went off the rails because you failed to properly delegate some of its most important elements? Not often enough, probably, because most of the time, we complain that “he just can’t be counted on” … or, “she doesn’t get it” … or something like “they can’t ever seem to follow through.” We think we’ve clearly spelled everything out and getting it done should be a no-brainer. But, have we?
Barely a day goes by when I don’t hear from a CEO about the unremitting challenges to achieving accountability in her organization. The heart of that struggle is usually a flawed or incomplete process of delegation because delegation is a critical tool that we’re expected to understand but which we never learned.
BTW, this isn’t just a challenge for inexperienced business leaders. When Michael Hyatt, on his excellent blog about “Intentional Leadership,” discusses why we need to delegate, he refers to the advice given by Moses’ father, almost 2,500 years ago, as Moses was wearing himself out trying to manage all of the conflicts among the tribes he was leading. Those timeless guidelines explain “why” we need to delegate, but how do we do it successfully?
Here are 8 Steps to becoming an Effective Delegator:
1. As with most things, how you start is how you finish, so make sure you consistently embrace this simple three word mantra: Set Clear Expectations. If you don’t start from here, your chances of successful delegation are slim. Concentrate on the what, when and why to make sure the goals and objectives are clear, but from there, let your people figure out how to get it done. They may not take the same approach that you would, but as they meet the milestones, give them some room to maneuver and let them find the best way that works for them.
2. Help them out. It stands to reason that you must give enough guidance to help the person be successful. As you give them the what, when and why, make sure you share any tips and techniques that you think might help them, and let them figure out the how from there.
3. Make sure you distinguish between policy formulation and plan execution. There’s a big difference between asking one of your direct reports to create a plan or strategy and asking them to execute a plan that’s already established. If you are giving them a wide berth to formulate a strategy, with little direction, don’t be surprised when they come back with a half – baked plan because they don’t have enough experience to build it, ergo, step #4.
4. You must ascertain whether the assignment is a stretch or in the wheelhouse of the person to whom you’re delegating it. Do they have the tools and experience to be successful? Are they strategic thinkers or are they better at grinding out the details? Your customary “go to” person may be supremely reliable, but they may not be sufficiently versatile to handle everything you throw at them. Make sure you choose people carefully for each project you delegate.
5. Make sure you have established a penalty free environment in your organization. It is critical that your team be allowed to experiment and make mistakes … and feel free to bring you realistic and honest feedback about their successes as well as their struggles. Your job is to nurture them as leaders by keeping them between the guardrails without going over the cliff, so that your ultimate goals are accomplished.
6. Beware of the old adage, “Paralysis by Analysis.” For new executives particularly, there’s a tendency to over analyze the results of the projects they have delegated, which subverts the entire process. The more you tend to hold on to the assignment, the more likely you are to micromanage and over analyze it. If you’re going to constantly overwhelm your colleagues with endless analysis, they won’t have a chance, and you’ll end up with the monkey on your back.
7. Think of your transition to becoming an excellent delegator as moving from doing to monitoring. Another major reason why people fail to successfully delegate is that they never let go of the task they’ve assigned and continue to micromanage it to conclusion.
8. Reframe your mindset. One very effective way to do this is to delegate the project and not the task. This means that you’re delegating the accountability so that the person is in full control of their mission. You will be watching, monitoring, tracking and getting feedback about their progress, but you don’t need to own the project and you don’t need to micromanage it. You’ll not only achieve a more successful outcome, but you’ll teach leaders to be better at accepting delegated tasks, while you get better at delegating them.
Let’s summarize the 8 Rules of Effective Delegation:
1. Set Clear Expectations
2. Share Tips & Techniques
3. Formulate or Execute?
4. Evaluate Capabilities
5. Establish Penalty Free Environment
6. Avoid Paralysis by Analysis
7. Monitor it, Don’t do it
8. Delegate Project not Task
You have to be willing to learn this process. You must learn to allow your direct reports to make mistakes … to try and fail, pick themselves up and keep moving forward. You need to teach them to keep you informed while they continue to progress on the project they own.
Delegation is an art and not a science, but by starting with these basic principles, you’ll become a much more effective delegator and a much more successful leader.
Lary Kirchenbauer, President of Exkalibur Advisors, is an Experienced Executive Coach, Educator, Author & Public Speaker. Lary works closely with senior executives and their middle market businesses at the intersection of leadership, finance and business strategy. “Like” Building a Business on Facebook and benefit from his exclusive newsletter, or visit the Exkalibur web site at www.Exkalibur.com, where you will also find a library of valuable resources.
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