Making the transition from individual contributor to leader requires several mindset shifts. One of the most challenging for many people is the transition from “doing” to “delegating.” It’s so common, in fact, that the late London Business School professor John Hunt said that only 30% of managers consider themselves good delegators, and just one-third of managers are considered good delegators by their employees.
Delegating work to someone else can be tough for several reasons. As high-performing individual contributors, many leaders were comfortable with having an intense workload full of deliverables that only they could complete. Moving into leadership requires entrusting those tasks to others in favor of focusing on big-picture items. It can also mean letting go of familiar tasks in favor of learning how to manage team members. Most of us prefer to hold onto things that play to our strengths.
For a new manager who wants to become an effective leader, however, learning to delegate tasks successfully to others is an important skill set to develop and practice early.
Effective delegation skills can make the difference between a high-performing leader and a leader who consistently struggles. To be an effective delegator, follow this step-by-step process:
1. Identify Tasks
The first step to effective delegation is identifying which tasks to assign to others. Start by rewriting your to-do list. Classify each job into one of four quadrants based on how important and urgent it is.
Ideally, as a leader, you should spend most of your time in Quadrant 2. The tasks in Quadrant 2 are those that require initiative and strategic thinking. These are the tasks that will align most closely with the company’s long-term mission and goals.
The tasks in Quadrant 3 are the ones you should assign to others. Remember that while these tasks are in the “Not Important” box, they are only unimportant to you. These tasks are still crucial for the company's mission and goals. Capture the specifics of each job, and then identify the skills and resources necessary to do each.
Why This Step Matters: Taking the time to carefully assess your to-do list will help prevent you from assigning tasks haphazardly or holding onto tasks you no longer have time for. You may even discover tasks no one needs to do, thus saving everyone on your team from wasting time.
2. Select Candidates
Step two of effective delegation is identifying which team members have the skill sets and time to undertake the tasks in Quadrant 3. Consider overall experience and ability, but don’t reflexively eliminate a candidate who might not have the perfect skills and experience. Delegating work is a vital way to develop team members. Someone with the right aptitudes and the willingness to develop new skills and grow into a role might be a perfect candidate—especially if your “perfect” candidate is needed on some other task.
Why This Step Matters: Looking at each job and candidate carefully can help you identify professional development opportunities for some of your team members. It can also help you ensure that the assigned tasks align with each person’s job description and prevent giving too many tasks to one person.
3. Assign Tasks
Once you’ve decided on suitable candidates, assign the tasks. The task's size, importance, and urgency will likely determine how much explanation is required, but confine your description to the specifics and importance of the task. Make sure the team member understands the desired outcome and timeline, and address any questions or concerns.
Once you’ve given the details, leave the process up to your team member. Everyone has different time management styles, and while some people may be at their most productive first thing in the morning, others hit their peak in the afternoon. Entrust your team members to manage their time and energy without micromanagement.
Why This Step Matters: Obviously, assigning tasks is the goal of delegating. Use this step to focus on improving your ability to communicate the tasks and the desired results in order to empower your team members to grow into trusted, independent individual contributors.
4. Follow Up
As you go through the process of assigning tasks, make sure to establish checkpoints and measurements as appropriate to the assignment and the existing skill level of the employee. You will want to schedule more opportunities to monitor progress if the assignment requires your employee to master new skills. On the other hand, if the team member completing the project has produced good work on similar projects in the past, your check-ins should be less frequent. Be open to ongoing questions and feedback about the tasks; your team members may have new insights into completing the task at hand more effectively.
Encourage learning as well. Team members may discover a new passion or interest. If you have regular check-ins along the way, you may be able to direct your team member to additional development opportunities.
Above all, tailor delegation and follow-up to the individual. Remember that not everyone needs the same level of oversight.
Why This Step Matters: Learning when and how to follow up with each team member could take some time. You might be new to leadership, your role, the company, or this specific team. As you watch your team members take on the tasks you delegate, don’t be afraid to adjust your oversight style or follow-up process as necessary.
Managers who learn effective delegation early in their careers will significantly improve their chances of becoming high-performing leaders with high-performing teams. When done well, delegation can have powerful outcomes for team members, including more innovative and creative ideas, higher performance, and better employee satisfaction and retention.
As you move from being an individual contributor to a manager or leader, develop this critical management tool early. Not only will you better manage your time and energy, but you will also establish yourself as a leader who can focus on the big picture while empowering team members to become high performers.
- What is one task I can delegate today?
- What is one task I struggle to make time for? Can I delegate that?
- What is one management task I could perform better if I delegated other items?