CEO Insider

How to delegate effectively

Delegating is something all CEOs and managers must do in order for their company to be successful. But delegating effectively isn’t always plain sailing; it is a skill that needs to be learnt and some leaders can find it difficult.

Delegating is not abdicating, which is one of the most common pitfalls people fall into. It’s not about handing over a task and leaving someone to it, and expecting them to do it exactly as they would. Delegating a project or task needs to be managed properly, without disempowering the employee.

A common mistake is for leaders who have delegated tasks to then micro manage the process which hinders rather than helps the business. Instead of freeing up the CEO to get on with something else, they spend their time controlling and overseeing every detail which undermines and demotivates people from learning and doing their best.

Whilst a CEO may feel they are the most knowledgeable person for the job it’s important to give other people in their team a chance to learn, develop and even make mistakes. As a company grows, workload increases and it needs to be shared with others so the CEO can concentrate on business strategy and drive the business forward.

The purpose of delegating is twofold – to get something done and to motivate and develop employees. Good delegation will ideally free up a boss and help their team progress but it takes investment, time, clear communication and commitment.

Problems can occur when someone hands over a task without clear direction about the standards they expect or explaining the quality of the work expected and the timescales for completion. Another problem is when the person who is delegating the task worries about being too condescending when explaining a task and mistakenly assumes the other person knows what they want and that giving too much guidance would be insulting.

These situations tend to go wrong and result in work. The work is unlikely to be up to standard and instead of giving constructive feedback, the boss gets annoyed and ends up doing the work themselves, undermining the person and ending up overworked because they haven’t delegated effectively.

CEOs need to understand that if delegation doesn’t work, it is because they haven’t done it right. Did they choose the right person? Did they explain the task and expectations clearly? Did they set clear guidelines and deadlines? Did they schedule review sessions? Did they create an environment of trust that allowed the person to ask for clarification and guidance ahead of time?

So what does it take for someone to become an effective delegator?

A good delegator will identify to the right person to delegate to. The person must have the capability to do the work, or it’s important for them to be able to learn how to do it.

In order for to the person to feel empowered and motivated, they should be given full responsibility and accountability for the work. Only by having ownership of the task will employees know they are trusted to do a good job and have the inspiration and determination to succeed.

Next, it’s important to set clear expectations, to explain what is needed, why the work is important and the standards and outcomes expected, as well as deadlines.

Delegating effectively means taking time to explain things fully and how the task fits into the bigger picture of the business strategy. There mustn’t be an assumption that the employee will have knowledge of this.

Remember delegation isn’t about micro managing; however, it is essential to set up check points on the progress to ensure the work is going according to expectations, as the ultimate responsibility lies with the boss.

Just leaving someone to it is also not the right approach. Employees need guidance but it needs to be done without undermining them or taking away accountability for the project or task.

One of the worst mistakes a boss can make is to take back a piece of work that is not up to standard and fix it themselves. When this happens, no one benefits. The boss continues to be overworked and the employee doesn’t learn.

Every piece of work is a learning opportunity, it must be fully owned by the person and handed back to them until it meets the standards. This is the only way progression and learning takes place.

When people are not performing, instead of blaming the employee, the boss should consider asking themselves how they could have delegated better.

Did they explain clearly enough what was needed, did they delegate the task to the wrong person, what could they have done to improve the situation? This self-awareness is a critical element of good delegation.

Learning to delegate is a powerful skill and a key competency of being a good CEO. Those that do it well not only inspire their people to think for themselves, they themselves become better leaders.

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Marielena Sabatier
Marielena Sabatier is an executive coach with 20 years experience and founder and CEO of Inspiring Potential, a people development company who offer Executive Coaching, Leadership Training and Team Development.
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