Ten Tips for Delegating - The Best Time Management Tool


Ten Tips for Delegating

Jerome said his biggest problem was time management. He was overloaded, deadlines were getting missed, and he was stressed.

Managing his team was his biggest time drain.

“When they ask me questions, I get stuck spending time with them instead of doing my own work. And when I don’t hear from them, I usually discover they’ve made mistakes that I need to clean up.”

I replied, “Jerome, your biggest problem is you’re a “seagull manager.”

“What’s a seagull manager?”

A seagull is usually off flying around somewhere, but every once in a while, swoops in unexpectedly, makes a lot of noise, dumps a load, and then flies off again.

When you’re bouncing back and forth between being over-involved and under-involved, your team is always on the lookout, not knowing what to expect. And once you swoop in, it’s not always so easy to fly off as quickly as you would like.

Delegating is not easy for many of us. It’s hard to let go of authority while remaining accountable for the outcome.

Fortunately, even seagulls can learn to delegate.

Don’t Delegate Unless

They have the skills to do the job. Don’t assume they know how to accomplish the task on their own. What have you observed that indicates they are competent?  

They are motivated to do the job. Do they feel confident to do this on their own? Is this something they actually want to do? Do they believe it is worthwhile?

They have access to the resources they need. Do they have access to the materials, information, people, funds and time that are needed?

Ten Tips for Delegating Effectively

1. Involve your direct reports in deciding what to delegate.

Allow them to participate in determining what and when tasks are delegated to them, and then get acknowledgement that they understand and agree to the assignment.

2. Communicate expectations clearly and completely.

Be specific, clear, and complete in clarifying the tasks, the goals, resources, constraints, what good performance looks like, and when and how the results will be shared with you.

3. Balance your involvement.

Don’t disappear, but don’t over-supervise. Hovering is counter-productive. Agree in advance how often you will be updated and under what conditions you need to be informed of issues that arise. Don’t swoop in unexpectedly.

4. Push decision-making and authority to the edges of the organization.

Delegate to the lowest level at which the task can be successfully accomplished. Do not bypass your direct report, but encourage him or her to delegate the task when appropriate.

5. Grant authority.

Grant enough authority to do the job, enough power and control over resources to get the job done. Make sure that everyone who is involved knows that you have delegated the authority to your direct report.

6.  Provide resources.

Provide all information that is available and relevant; pass on other information as it becomes available. Ensure they have access to the resources needed to be effective.

7. Give credit, withhold blame.

Give public credit when they succeed. If something goes wrong, withhold blame so they don’t becoming defensive, and instead help them debrief mistakes and learn from them.

8. Don’t take it back.

Require them to first propose their own ideas for solutions when they come to you with a problem. When they ask you for the answer, it is tempting to take on their work. If they have the skills but are lacking confidence or motivation, coach them. Don’t take it back unless it is absolutely clear that the situation has become too complex.

9. Maintain accountability.

Although your direct report has the responsibility for seeing the job well done and the authority to make needed decisions, remember that the ultimate accountability remains with you.

10. Delegate consistently.

Delegate consistently, not just when you are overloaded or when tasks are unpleasant.

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10 comments to Ten Tips for Delegating – The Best Time Management Tool

  • I wish I would have had this list when I was a young Air Force Lieutenant…it would have saved me a lot of heartache.

    I coach successful leaders and entrepreneurs, but inevitably the topic of time management comes up. What I find a lot of them are unwilling to relinquish control of something that they feel is important, but in the big scheme of things is totally ripe for delegation.

    We then usually end working on internal attitudes and beliefs to start freeing up their trust and teaching them how to actually delegate and make it work.

    • Jesse Lyn Stoner Jesse Lyn Stoner

      All good points, Joe. Time management, delegation, and control often nest together. Our beliefs affect our behavior. The results of our behavior reinforce our beliefs. I think the best way to sustain change is to both challenge our underlying beliefs and also learn the skills needed to behave differently.

  • Powerful Jesse. The image of the sea gull manager rocks. Your ideas help me figure out when to step in or not.

    “dumps a load and flies off again”… Golden!

  • Jill Malleck

    I especially like your last point, Jesse, and might have titled it “Delegate even when you are too busy to do so.” In my experience with overwhelmed leaders this is a huge stumbling block. When they are busy it feels like more work to stop, think and then carefully prepare to delegate – to do the other 9 points you list! Instead, it can feel easier and faster to just do it themselves. When things get really hot, the delegating happens by necessity – and then it becomes a dump instead. Here’s a good tip: take a day off once in a while, or let your team meet without you for once, or send someone else in your stead. When you just let go – and see the benefits not just to you but to the other person’s growth – it makes it easier to trust next time.

    • Jesse Lyn Stoner Jesse Lyn Stoner

      That would be a great title, Jill. It takes time to set up delegation effectively. But the payoff makes it worth the time and effort. It might make our ego feel good to believe we are indispensable, but it’s a set up for burn out. Learning to trust in letting go is an important lesson for all of us.

  • Spot on–once again! Control is a huge issue and I hear managers say, “But they won’t doit as well as I do.” My response: is “So? Who says that they might not even do it better than you? Or differently than you?” I think when we hang on to one outcome that is our personal creation, we stifle our delegation. It takes courage to delegate for that reason. Power to the people, um?

    • Jesse Lyn Stoner Jesse Lyn Stoner

      This is important point. Delegation means letting go of control of not only the process but also over the outcome, as long as the results are aligned with the objective. It means keeping the bigger picture in mind and letting go of the details. Otherwise we stifle not only the our delegation, but the opportunity for creativity. Thanks for pointing this out, Eileen.

  • This is informative and timely. We have infact been talking about this in our office with our managers. In my work experience , i have observed that most of the managers do not want to delegate work, only with the fear that the subordinate will know what is being done at the manager level or with the fear of insecurity of the job.

    • Jesse Lyn Stoner Jesse Lyn Stoner

      Good point. And the irony is that often managers are not promoted because there is no one who is competent to take their place because haven’t delegated enough.

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