The Art of Delegation in Leadership

Sally Flint
May 16, 2020 · 7 min read
women talking and planning
Delegation is not giving someone the boring time consuming tasks to do! Delegation involves empowering colleagues to help achieve an outcome that adheres to a shared vision.

When I was working as a full time Head of Libraries I was forever delegating. By delegating I don’t mean giving people mindless, boring and time consuming tasks that I didn’t want to do. That is not delegation. Sometimes, I delegated by asking members of the team to complete tasks for which their skill-set was especially suited. Other times I delegated by asking members of the team to take risks and go beyond their regularly used skill-set in order to help them develop and improve. In my particular line of work this could include asking the team to implement crazy ideas aimed at motivating reading and encourage children to use the library. Tasks such as planning, creating and overseeing an assault course within the library walls and making, creating and running a ‘rapping’ stage for Poetry Aloud events spring to mind.

The team I led was a bunch of 11 conservative Thai staff and one English expat Early Years’ Specialist. The last thing that you might expect was a colleague, expert in the art of organising textbooks, to be found creating a Santa’s grotto of which John Lewis would be proud, but that kind of thing happened.

My team would raise an eyebrow at my outlandish ideas and then, together, we would come up with a plan, assign tasks within it, enact the action the plan and enjoy watching it come to fruition. Delegation worked.

Why is Delegation so Important

Delegation was important to me in my role for two main reasons. One more notable than the other. The first, lesser reason, is one of practicality and necessity. Even had I wanted to I didn’t have time to complete all the tasks myself, neither did I have the skills. Secondly, I wanted my team to value the work as much as I did. I wanted them to have a vested interest in the outcomes and thus be not only prepared, but excited about meeting the goals. Through delegation I wanted to help lead a team invested in running the very best library we possibly could.

How to Encourage a Team to Invest

Invest in Others. If you invest in the team they will invest in your goals. Your team shouldn’t be completing a task ‘for you’ so as ‘ to not let you down’. Or at least it shouldn’t happen too often. If you have a supportive team, occasionally it is ok for them to enact something they don’t one hundred percent believe in. However, if you have previously invested in them as colleagues then they will be more prepared to invest in your outlandish schemes and ideas. In brief this comes down to caring for them. If a member of the team has failed a part of their appraisal don’t leave them to struggle, but set up a detailed strategy to get them on track; if a team member’s child is sick, be sympathetic and enable them to have the support they need; if a team member has a birthday then celebrate. In my own role the team seemed to enjoy photographing each and every event. I am never keen to be in front of the camera, but I played along as the team liked it and it didn’t cost me anything.

Elicit Trust — Ensure the Team Trust You. If you elicit the team’s trust by being a good leader then they are more likely to trust that your delegation is valuable.

Show Transparency — Be transparent about your reason for delegation. Even if the purpose for delegating a task is simply because you don’t enjoy a particular task (which as I’ve said it shouldn’t really be) then ‘come clean’. Faking a reason for delegation isn’t going to work; you are going to destroy the dynamic of trust that you’re creating and get called out on it.

Enjoy Rewards — if you are delegating a large chunk of work that is over and above what can be reasonably expected from a colleague, this needs not only acknowledging but rewarding. Extrinsic rewards are always nice to receive. These can be small as well as large things. A personalized card; a shout out and a gift can go a long way. If extrinsic rewards go alongside the intrinsic rewards of the member of staff seeing the benefits of their delegated responsibility then even better. Take time to stop, acknowledge the effort someone has made and comment on its success.

Once you have an invested team then you are 90 percent of the way towards being able to delegate effectively. With a team behind you delegation means little more than working together effectively. Job sharing and dividing tasks sounds far more equitable than delegation but it amounts to the same thing.

How to Delegate

If leading a meeting empower other colleauges to desire to take on roles within a project.

Have a Vision — Enter discussions and meetings with a clear idea of what you want to achieve and how you think you might reach your goals. This isn’t sneaky. Be transparent, especially if you are asking a lot from your colleagues. If you have invested in your team they are likely to buy into in your vision if it is a reasonable one.

Be Open Minded — Have a clear list of what you think is needed to achieve your goals but be prepared to change your mind if necessary. In this case delegation on the spot is required, or alternatively reconvening at another meeting is necessary.

Listen — If a team member objects to an aspect of delegation then carefully listen why. People don’t generally moan just because they are lazy — especially not if other aspects of good leadership are in place — so take note as they probably have a valid point.

Be Purposeful — Don’t dilly dally and waste people’s time. If you are delegating you are probably creating more work which requires more time so get on with it.

Be Interested — Once you have delegated something then maintain a regular interest in the work. Be careful though not to micro-manage. If you have asked a member of a team to do something then allow them to get on with it! Providing frequent mini-deadlines to discuss progress and to be reminded of overall goals is helpful.

Work as a Team — Regularly reconvening and evaluating how everyone’s part is important in achieving the final aim is essential to maintain motivation and interest.

Acknowledge Strengths in Others and Weaknesses in Yourself — A colleague once told me that you shouldn’t ask someone else to do something you can’t do yourself. This would have never worked for me as there are many gaps in my own librarianship skills. Acknowledge a colleague’s superior skills in a particular area. This shouldn’t be a threatening thing to do.

Work Hard — If you are delegating tasks to others then you need to lead by example. You might not be able to do the same tasks as other team members and it might not be appropriate for you to do so, but the team need to see you putting the same effort into achieving an end goal as they do.

Stay Connected — All roles change and develop and it is important to stay connected to what is happening in your own environment. Regular meetings and open opportunites for giving feedback are essential.

Value the Team — In all industries there is often a sense of resentment when a team does a ton of work behind the scenes, whilst one person takes the stage and appears to reap the benefits. Whilst this might be the nature of things it is important that everyone enjoys the outcome and is valued for their part of delegation. Verbal accolades are great, but in my experience written positive feedback is longer lasting, especially if copied to more senior leaders than yourself.

Lady ironing
Lady ironing
After failing to delegate at home, it is easy for mum to take on all the roles!

At the risk of boasting I was a quite good delegator when leading a team at work. At this moment in time I am not working and am living in lockdown with my grown up children. I’m not sure my delegation skills at home are as good. Even though our house does run pretty smoothly I think my children would claim that some my leadership delegation skills are a little rusty. Don’t do these things:

— Delegate something that you really ought to be doing and then complain it isn’t done well enough.

— Promise rewards and not deliver.

— Delegate by being wheedling and weak. My daughters will tell you how I do this all the time when requiring help with t- echy IT tasks that are too hard for me.

— Delegate and then do the task myself anyway.

— Delegate and micro-manage the completion of the task.

— Delegate by being sneaky.

— Delegate through bargaining and bribery.

Delegation in a Nut Shell

These errors of delegation have all featured in my home life and caused a bit of conflict, but not too much! To delegate effectively in any situation the key thing is to earn the trust of those being delegated to, have a shared vision for the outcome of what you are hoping to attain. If you can do this then your delegation will reap rewards time and time again.

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Sally Flint

Written by

Blogger, freelance article writer and children’s author. Lover of reading and forever learning.

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +793K followers.

Sally Flint

Written by

Blogger, freelance article writer and children’s author. Lover of reading and forever learning.

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +793K followers.

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