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How to Delegate Effectively at Work

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S. Davies is a business communications coach who gives workshops on how to keep your professional reputation squeaky-clean and drama-free.

Are you drowning in a sea of paperwork?

At the end of each workday, do you cringe at the number of things that haven't been crossed off your 'To Do' list yet?

Are you feeling overwhelmed by all the commitments you have made to other people?

At the same time, while you're stressed out about how much you have to do, do you feel anxious about letting other people step in to help you?

If this sounds like you, then it's time to learn the art of effective delegation.

Is the work piling up on your desk? That's a sign that you need to start prioritizing your time and delegating more work to your staff.

Is the work piling up on your desk? That's a sign that you need to start prioritizing your time and delegating more work to your staff.

Delegation is Crucial

If you're in a leadership position at work, you must learn how to delegate tasks to staff in a fair and effective manner otherwise you will be the one who gets overwhelmed and starts to underperform.

The most common reason people don't delegate more work to other people, even when they're buried under a mountain of paperwork, is a fear of letting go. Delegating a task to an employee, a friend or a family member means that you have to surrender your need to control the outcome.

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What is the definition of delegating?

According to various dictionaries, the verb delegate means to send or appoint as deputy or representative; to commit (powers, functions, etc.) to another; to transfer power to someone or to assign authority. With definitions like this, is it any wonder that some people are afraid to delegate work to other people, even when they're swamped?

Effective delegation, however, isn’t really about surrendering control or giving up the leadership role. It's about picking the right people to do the right job so that everyone reaches common goals.

How do you decide which tasks should be assigned to someone else and which ones should be kept in your work folio? When choosing projects that you need someone to complete on your behalf, remember that leadership is not about unloading boring projects you don’t want to do. People who pass the buck like this tend to manage by authority, rather than lead by example. If you're handing out jobs that you wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole, your staff will know it. Effective delegation is about knowing what your work priorities are—not your preferences—and then deciding where your time and energy is most needed. Here are a few examples of tasks that should be delegated:

  • Farm out the jobs that rob you of the time and resources you need to tackle bigger issues.
  • Delegate projects that you're not good at. True leadership doesn’t mean you need to be an expert at everything. Being a leader is about figuring out who the experts in your midst are and then recruiting them to help you get the job done. Why spend 8 hours fiddling around with a graphic design program when there’s someone in your department who knows the design software inside out and can get the job done in 1/10th the time?
  • Don't hang onto tasks that aren't challenging you to work harder, smarter and more efficiently. Pay attention to those "make-work projects" that can fool you into feeling busy without actually moving you forward.
Effective leaders know that delegating tasks is an essential time management skill.

Effective leaders know that delegating tasks is an essential time management skill.

Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People said, "An empowered organization is one in which individuals have the knowledge, skill, desire, and opportunity to personally succeed in a way that leads to collective organizational success." When framed this way, learning how to appropriately assign tasks to other people becomes an ethical responsibility, not a bureaucratic burden.

How can delegating work to other people improve your chances of being promoted?

Knowing how to pick the right people to do the right job shows that you have strong leadership skills. It demonstrates your ability to recognize people’s strengths and weaknesses. Delegating also proves that you have good time management skills and you are smart enough to know that there are not enough hours in the day for you to do it all.

Being able to hand work over to other people projects a level of confidence and self-assuredness that your boss will appreciate. People who worry about being one-upped by their colleagues tend to cling to projects--even the ones that they’re no good at—for fear of being outdone by their peers. Which person do you want to be in the office: the person who is calm, fair and confident? Or the person who is anxious, stingy and self-centered? How good you are at sharing work with others says a lot about your leadership potential.

Be thoughtful when you hand work out to your employees or subordinates.

Assigning work to other people gives you a chance to focus your efforts on projects that let your natural talents show.

  • Give your staff tasks that will challenge them and make them feel as though they are making a meaningful contribution to the company. (Because they are!)
  • Always, always, always acknowledge and give due credit to people who have completed tasks assigned to them. Never take credit for someone else’s work, even if you are a project lead. The fastest way to undermine your ability to lead others is to consistently fail to thank and acknowledge other people's efforts.
  • Understand the job description of the person you are asking to assist you. Do you have the authority to ask for their assistance or do they report to someone else? Appreciate that the person you ask to help you may have to say no because they report to someone else. Try to keep the lines of communication open with all parties impacted by your request. Don’t put people in a difficult situation or threaten them with “Fine, I’ll go talk to your boss and he’ll make you do it!”

You are not the only one who wins when you delegate tasks to your staff.

Your employees also win because they are given a chance to develop their own skills. When a staff member successfully tackles a tough project, their self-confidence grows. By giving your staff challenging projects, you are telling your staff “I believe in you. I know you can do this!” Delegating can be a wonderful way to express your faith in your employees. Handing an employee a task that is so easy to do that a monkey could do it has the opposite effect. It says, “I don’t think you are capable of anything other than menial work.” Delegating tasks to a group of people as a team project is also a great way to encourage feelings of connectedness, shared responsibility, and inclusion in the workplace.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2016 S Davies

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