To be a successful leader, you need to be a great delegator. After all, you can’t do everything yourself when you have large-scale company goals to meet. But to do it properly, you need to have the right mind-set—otherwise, it can backfire very quickly and jeopardize the success of your team. In my experience, there are two common obstacles that leaders need to overcome.
Obstacle one: The hesitant delegator
Leaders often hesitate because they don’t want to burden their team with work, or are afraid that they will hand the job to someone who might make a mistake.
You need to remember that members are at work to work. Yes, you do need to ensure that you’re not giving them more than they can chew, but if you ask them whether or not they’d be interested in being in charge of a task, chances are, they’ll say yes. Think about it from their perspective. They’ll probably be glad to have the opportunity to show you what they’re capable of.
As for your fear of mistakes–you won’t get around this unless you allow them to learn through experience. You can still keep a close pulse on quality results without micromanaging. Take time to train team members and act as a mentor. The time investment in training and refining is worth it. You’ll find that when you trust your team members, they’ll trust you, too.
Obstacle two: the dictator delegator
This kind of delegator is a leader that delegates unintentionally or feels that having a team means they have someone to do all the work for them. They shoot e-mails at team members with vague direction and critical timelines. Dictator delegators don’t offer support and then get upset when results are late or imperfect.
This mind-set can drive team members away. You need to approach delegation with thoughtfulness, open communication, and by offering support. You don’t want your team members to be driven by fear–because that’s not going to drive your great results. You want them to be excited by doing the work.
Now that you know what not to do (and how to fix those tendencies if any of the above sounds like you), how do you move forward? Here is a simple six-step process.
1. Give assignments in person whenever possible
When you want a team member to take on new work, it’s always best to talk in person or over the phone. Not only does this show that you value the task at hand, but you can also make sure that they understand your message.
2. Tell your team how that work benefits the company
Secondly, give them the why behind the ask, the context, and the impact it’ll have on the company. Sure, providing one-off instructions to people makes sense when the reason is evident. But in most cases, I suggest that you ask your team members whether they understand the purpose of the assignment. They’ll be more motivated to perform if they know the impact that they’ll personally have by doing this work.
3. Be specific
You need to give them a deadline, and outline the output that you expect. Talk about if the timeline is realistic, and help prioritize with other tasks at hand if they need. This is another way you can reduce the likelihood of mistakes.
4. But make sure you balance clear direction with the freedom to learn and experiment
When you give the ask, be specific as to what the outcome should be, but leave the how-to open. If they seem confused or don’t know where to start, that is where it’s essential to be a mentor and provide some guidance. Remember, your role as a leader is to empower your team to do their best work, and you’re not going to get there by being a micromanager.
5. Be available for questions and support
As a leader, you’re also a mentor, so you need to offer ongoing support. Ask them if they understand the ask, and if they need further assistance in getting started or obtaining the right resources or connections to get the job done.
Finally, there’s always a feedback loop; that’s how we learn as leaders–as students of our team members. After you have delegated the work, make sure to check in regularly (but not too frequently) with your team to keep things on track and offer support. It’s your job to make sure things get completed efficiently and on time. However, you need to be patient. Expect that they might make some mistakes in the process, and be prepared to give them constructive feedback.
Being an effective delegator doesn’t come overnight. But by putting in the time and energy upfront, your team will be in a much better place to achieve things that you wouldn’t be able to accomplish on your own. At the end of the day, that’s what leading a team is all about.
Hilary Jane Grosskopf is the author of Awake Leadership: A System for Leading with Clarity and Creativity (2018) and Awake Ethics: A System for Aligning Your Actions with Your Core Intentions (2018). She is a leadership guide, strategist, writer, and founder of Awake Leadership Solutions.