Leaders Know When to Delegate

Gerwig 2015-08-03

Do you have a favorite city? Hong Kong, Paris, London, New York, Phoenix, Shanghai, Geneva, Denver, Barcelona, Charleston, and Singapore all come to mind. But one of my new favorite cities is Boston. It’s location on the water, quaint restaurants, history, international flavor and concentration of great schools (e.g. Harvard and MIT) make it irresistible. And now that I live in New England, it’s only a couple hours away. Yes, I never thought I’d live in New England, but here I am. And as I learn my way around a bit, I’m learning that I really enjoy Boston.

Recently we made a day trip to Boston and I asked my wife to drive. Although I normally do the driving, she drove. I was “working.” Although it was a Saturday, I had some urgent email, texts, and phone calls to make. It comes with heading up a 24×7 operation. Sometimes I’m able to set it aside. Sometimes I cannot. But by the time we arrived in Boston, I’d mostly completed my urgent work and was able to enjoy the day.

As luck would have it, about the time we left, I had another work issue on which to focus. Again, my wife very willingly drove home and let me “work” from the passenger seat. But later that night, I started thinking about how her driving had allowed me to work. And I starting thinking about delegation. Now asking my wife to drive for me so I could work may not be delegation in its purest form, but still, it prompted my reflection on delegation nonetheless.

Are you a good delegator at home? At work? Do you know why you should delegate? Many people know they should delegate, but don’t understand its benefit. I’m going to share 4 reasons to delegate and one “watch out” to avoid.

  1. Delegating a task to another (often, but not always, a subordinate) adds value when it plays to their strengths. For example, if you have a project or task that requires advanced spreadsheet skills, delegating it to a spreadsheet “whiz” plays to their strengths. They can complete the project or task more quickly, and better, than you.
  2. Delegating a task to another adds value when you don’t know how to complete it or when it requires you to do something at which you don’t do well. Yes, you could learn, but perhaps you don’t have the time or it’s not a skill you plan to use frequently in the future.
  3. Delegating a task to another adds value when you don’t have time to complete it. This falls into the “divide and conquer” category. This was the case when my wife drove to Boston. I can drive. I drive a lot. And I’m a good driver. But I couldn’t drive and complete my urgent work requirements. Her driving allowed me to focus on other tasks (by the way, she’s a great driver).
  4. Delegating a task to another adds value when it provides a learning/development opportunity for them. I once had an aspiring project manager who wanted a project to manage. By chance, I happened to have a small project that I didn’t have time to complete and I gave it to her (and mentored her during the experience). This helped both of us. It took something off my plate and it provided practical experience in an area in which she desired to develop and grow.
  5. Here’s the “watch out” to avoid: Don’t over delegate. Over-delegating frustrates those around you because you’re not pulling your own weight. They’ll feel like you’re taking advantage of them. And you deprive yourself of learning and adding value. If you over delegate, you may find yourself losing key skills.
  6. Bonus: Be certain to provide appropriate thanks and recognition to others completing delegated tasks. Give them the needed tools, resources and support to complete their tasks. Finally, remember that although you’ve delegated a project or task, as the boss, you’re ultimately accountable. They get the credit if things go well. You stand up and take the blame if things don’t go well.

How about you? Do are you a good delegator? Any favorite tips to share with other readers?

As always, the floor is open to your comments, suggestions, thoughts, and feedback.

Dr. is an agent of change and is able to balance the needs of the business and the needs of people. Dr. Gerwig believes and practices the values of performance and delivery of business metrics while simultaneously developing and growing people into leaders. You can contact him at RobertGerwig[at]LeadStrategic.com.


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