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5 Keys to Effective Delegation: How Leaders Assign Responsibility & Authority

By Jayne Jenkins (1542 words)
Posted in Management on April 7, 2013

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By Jayne Jenkins, CEO, Churchill Leadership Group

As business leaders we experience constant pressure from all sides, but our time and energy to get things done and deliver results is limited. What do we do? Delegate effectively.


Years ago as a new manager in the corporate world I suddenly found myself with twelve people reporting to me, a lot more travel and a hefty sales goal to deliver. I felt overwhelmed, sometimes incapable. Not only was I still learning how to do the job and learn about my new team, I also had to keep on top of all the activities that were expected of me. I had to deliver for my boss, be there for my team and keep up with my peers. With a type-A personality who sees opportunity everywhere, I felt like I could never keep up. I soon learned through coaching and mentoring, that is was not only critical for me to know where I was at my strongest, but to be very effective at prioritizing and delegating. No one had ever taught me how to delegate at this point, but like most I quickly realize it was very necessary.  I also learned the importance of being able to slow down and step back to think more strategically so that I could prioritize and delegate.


Today we’ll look at why you must learn to delegate and how to do so effectively. There is a little more to it than you might think.


Why delegate?  As super human as we often think we are, we are actually not! So the question becomes "Why not delegate?"  So often I see leaders overwhelmed and "in the weeds" doing activities that drain them and not acting as a leader, more of a micro manager. There are multiple negative consequences to this:


- They don't have time to lead their team or think strategically about their business.

- They suffocate employees, not allowing them to feel empowered or grow.

- If employees are not growing, succession planning is poor.

- Everyone is at risk of becoming disengaged and exhausted.


So why do leaders do this? Well there seem to be many reasons. Some have just never been taught any different; others feel only they can do certain activities well and need activities done their way. Most commonly these leaders don't trust others can meet their expectations. So to help you here are five key drivers of effective delegation.


5 Keys to Effective Delegation: How Leaders Assign Responsibility & Authority


1. It is OK to be human. Admit that working non-stop is unsustainable.

We cannot consistently work 12-hour days and be healthy and happy. Look around at those who try and see the negative health and family consequences that it causes. Would you like to work for an exhausted, stressed leader? For everyone's benefit admit the reality, you cannot do it all yourself!


Even recently I found myself thinking, "It is easier for me to do that rather than take on another virtual assistant and teach them how to do it." I like most of us worry that nobody else can do it as well as I can. Luckily now I catch myself and get right down to a delegation plan, fast! I realized the activities I had in mind did not play to my Strengths so I had to find someone who could do it more effectively and faster than I, therefore freeing me up to invest my energy where I am at my strongest.


2. Understand your Strengths.

Like you I can do many things well, but about twelve years ago I had an epiphany. With the help of Marcus Buckingham (Management/Strengths expert and international best selling author) among others, I realized that we all have a unique calling and there are areas where I stand out and add significant value over others - My Strengths.


So now I spend more of my time doing activities that drive my goals and play to my Strengths and create a well-rounded team with people who are strong in other areas. I delegate activities according to those people’s Strengths. Over time I have delegated more and more as it becomes clearer to me when and what to delegate, it is a journey, not a flip of a switch.


Don't know your Strengths or those of your team? Well I encourage you to make it a priority to figure this out and here are a few questions to help you start:


Where do you add the most value? To your team? To customers? To your goals?

Where do you feel the strongest?

What activities drain you?


3. Find qualified and accountable people to assist you.

This takes time but is well worth the work up front. Find people you can trust to help share your load.  You may consider hiring someone new as a business partner or as a corporate leader who can manage the day-to-day business with the ability to get to know the unique individuals on your team better than you can.


Give these individuals space to gain knowledge, experience and learn new skills in their Strength areas. You can help them develop their Strengths, but you have to start with a foundation of understanding them. When you have this, it’s so much easier to delegate because you can trust where they are most capable. Give them space and focus on the result. Encourage them, show trust and effectively recognize positive behaviors and progress. Success will build.


4. Assign your team members responsibility AND authority. Empower them!

How much responsibility and authority you give depends on the situation and person. So it's critical you and the person you are delegating to are on the same page as to the level of responsibility an authority they have (follow up in writing). Here are five levels you can use:


#1: Do exactly what I’ve asked you to do. Don’t deviate from my instructions. Be clear on the "why" behind why you are asking them to do it this way.


#2: Research the topic & come back to me. Then I can review & make a decision.


#3: Research the topic, outline the options, & please make a recommendation to me.


#4: Please do the research, make a decision, and then tell me what you did. Please just keep me in the loop so I have no surprises.


#5: Make whatever decision you think is best. There is no need to report back. I trust you completely & you have my full support.


As you can see from one to five there is increasing responsibility and trust. Start with one, assess and move towards five as things go well. This allows you to free yourself up and allows your team member to gain autonomy and to grow. Be sure to effectively recognize the behavior you want to see and you will see more of it.


5. Implement a Stop, Start, and Continue strategy.

With clients I often see activities being done and no one is sure why they are doing them! Determine what activities fall into each of these three buckets in terms of your strategic goals and then take action accordingly.


So let's summarize-

Delegation is a "must have" for sustainable success and your sanity! Commit to delegating. Keep the important activities that play to your Strengths and delegate other performance driving activities to the Strengths of others with clear responsibility and authority. Done well, everyone wins; people grow and productivity increases. When you delegate to peoples Strengths your organization grows faster because we grow the fastest in areas we feel strong.  Recognize often the behaviors you need to see and before you know it everyone is winning.


{#/pub/images/JayneJenkins3.jpg}Written by Jayne Jenkins, CEO Churchill Leadership Group        Jayne, a STAND OUT Master Strengths Coach and Workshop Facilitator, is a leadership business veteran working with some of the largest companies in the world including Exxon, AstraZeneca and Sanofi-Aventis.  She has over 23 years of experience leading successful sales teams and holding positions in Marketing, Strategic Operations and Organization Development.  As CEO of Churchill Leadership Group, Jane consults and coaches teams to maximize the impact of Managers and Teams through a focus on STRENGTHS for sustainable results.


Do you have a question for Jayne?  Post it in our Senior Manager Community and she will be happy to help: Ask an Expert


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Here are some related articles you may be interested in:

Create Your Brand Before Someone Else Does

Ask Great Questions to Develop Employees

Creating An Agile Culture: Top 3 Challenges Empowered Teams Face

Learn to Use Delegation as a Tool to Develop & Engage Employees


ManagingAmericans.com is a community of Business Professionals & Expert Consultants sharing knowledge, success tips and solutions to common job issues.  Our objective is to mentor and develop professionals to be better leaders, managers, team players and individual contributors. Ultimately, helping people succeed in their careers.  


Comments (5)

Christina Haxton posted on: April 8, 2013

Excellent article on delegation, which really speaks to trust, specifically authentic rather than forensic trust.

Forensic trust is "evidence-based trust." A leader who operates from a position of forensic trust only gives trust after a team member proves or earns it. The team member experiences "mistrust" and "doubt" from the boss.

Authentic trust is different. When the boss delegates at the level of #3 - #5, the message is "I believe in you and I am willing to be disappointed or pleased." Trust is given first, and if the team member doesn't deliver, the boss doesn't get angry, but responds with disappointment and an invitation to take responsibility to make it right. This step is critical!

Leaders & Managers: Delegating at the 4th and 5th level takes authentic trust - not only in your team, but also in yourself, in that you hired the right people to do the job. Are you willing to let them prove you right?

Andrea Feinberg posted on: April 8, 2013

I share Jayne's attitude: effective delegation is key to building a business; without it a leader is enslaved to daily operational routine and has no time to truly focus on longer term strategic growth, knowing what the future will bring and preparing for it.

Artem Berman posted on: April 8, 2013

Good one! One note is that in real life you ill have people on each of these levels at the same time when you are a line manager and when you are moving upper to X-level eventually you are loosing level 1, 2, 3 people and end up with only 4 and 5. ))

Chandra K. Bandar posted on: April 8, 2013

This is a difficult topic. This will take atleast 5 to 10 lines of explaination for Trust

Bill Eisnaugle posted on: April 9, 2013

All good points. The problem many managers in corporate America find themselves in is too little authority of their own - let alone empowering their team members. As roles narrow along with increased requirements - it becomes difficult to find ways to delegate. However - it is important to keep delegating what you can for the career development of your team members and whatever benefits you might derive.

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