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"I don't have a problem with delegation. I love to delegate. I'm either lazy enough, or busy enough, or trusting enough, or congenial enough, that the notion of leaving tasks in someone else's lap doesn't just sound wise to me, it sounds attractive" - John Ortberg

When coaching their managers, leaders will often say, "You need to delegate more." After all, you can't task them with important, strategic tasks if their plates are always full.

But what does it really mean to "delegate more?"

Does it mean looking at a task list and passing off the most boring or mundane tasks? Empowering employees to delegate isn't as simple as passing the baton. Leaders must ensure that their managers understand the difference between delegation and abdication, and give them the tools to master the fine art of effective delegation.

Two Essential Questions To Ask Before Handing Off A Task

Managers who have not learned to delegate effectively can lean towards abdication - dumping a task on someone else and immediately washing their hands of responsibility without any consideration for the employee's actual ability to do the job.

Delegation can be empowering, but only when the person being delegated to is granted the competency, information, tools and authority they need to do the job independently. This requires leaders at all levels to effectively evaluate the capabilities of their team members. Before handing someone a task, two questions must be asked:
  • Does this person have the capability to do the work?
  • Has this person been trained to do this particular work?

Consider an operating room. A surgeon and a scrub nurse may work together day in and day out on the same procedures, but at no point can the surgeon hand that nurse the scalpel and say, "I think I'll let you take over today, I've have some paperwork to do."

Similarly, in your business, having a manager dump a monthly Excel report on Susan because she's the team's most reliable employee will end in disaster if Susan is not trained on the specific skills needed for that particular report. Talented and reliable teammates are only as talented and reliable as the skills and capabilities they possess.
Identifying an employee who can handle a delegation requires an assessment of their skills today, and their ability to learn the skills required to take on the task. A nurse can't conduct surgery without a medical degree, but Susan may be able to tackle that monthly Excel report if given the proper training and tools to succeed.

Train Your Managers To Train Their Team For Delegation

Training is central to your ability to empower managers and employees to delegate effectively. As a leader, you have to train your managers to train their team. Sound complicated? It's not. Once an employee is identified as capable of taking on a task, they must be trained to do it on their own.

There is an old adage in training that denotes training as a three step process:
  1. First, I'm going to do the task and you will watch me.
  2. Next, we will do the task together.
  3. Finally, you will do the task and I will watch.

That process can be applied to nearly any task. Some will be more complicated, to be sure and the process of learning a new task may take longer if complex, but the three basic steps remain in play. Once an employee demonstrates that they can do the task successfully, they can then take ownership, freeing the manager to tackle other tasks that only they can do.

Delegation is an essential skill for managers, but as a leader, you cannot assume they understand the value of delegation or the process. As they become more strategic and methodical in their approach to delegation, you can then feel confident in delegating more responsibility to your managers and create a culture of empowerment from the top down.


Larry Hart

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