Delegation is the process of assigning tasks or responsibilities to another person or group. When done well, it helps senior leaders not just prioritise their workload but supports them in doing what is their job. It increases trust, teamwork and fosters ownership and accountability. Crucially, it also equips employees with the tools to develop their skills.
Research shows organisations are not sufficiently training their staff before promoting them to leadership roles. A Harvard Business survey found frontline leaders do not receive the same people-centric skills training as senior leaders.
According to a study by Chartered House Institute (CMI) and YouGov, 82% of people entering management positions lack adequate training.
However, delegation is not solely beneficial for developing employees; leaders themselves can step away from day-to-day tasks to look at the overall culture of their business. They can better understand their teams and improve their relational skills such as collaboration and communication.
Why can delegation be difficult for leaders?
Our CEO, Thom Dennis, highlights three requirements to successfully delegate:
2. The willingness to let go.
3. The courage to invest time in the person to whom you delegate.
In the Royal Marines, Thom learnt the importance of delegating - success was based on a team-created result rather than that of an individual. Delegation, in many instances, benefits the team but can feel like a loss of control for an individual.
It can be difficult to give up tasks and responsibilities you identify as part of your role, and which you fulfil in a specific way and to a certain standard. At the beginning, it takes less effort to perform a task yourself than to teach others to do so. It is often also a considerable stretch for someone to stop doing what he or she enjoyed before being promoted, to let that go to their replacement, whilst learning new skills and handling new challenges.
Ego can encourage leaders to avoid sharing their work with others. After all, no one else gets to enjoy the glory if you handle everything yourself. They may also fear their authority will be undermined if people carry out leadership duties effectively. In addition to these factors, guilt can arise about assigning more work to others. Particularly if your company has staff shortages or people are already overworked.
How can leaders delegate successfully?
1. Prioritise trust and transparency
As Thom mentioned, trust – between both employees and senior managers – is essential for successful delegation. The absence of trust leads to micromanagement, miscommunication, cynicism and poor performance. Employees might be reluctant to take on challenging work and risk failure, while leaders may become overbearing and stifle creativity.
PWC’s 2023 trust survey shows 94% of employees believe organisations have a responsibility to build trust. A study by Sprout Social found that 86% of respondents believe transparency in business is ‘more important than ever before’.
Developing trust takes time, but organisations can use strategies to foster it:
• Be vulnerable — Move away from the notion that leaders must have all the answers to be viewed as authoritative. Asking for help and feedback shows strength alongside vulnerability.
• Show transparency — Keep staff informed of figures, statistics and news, good and bad. Sharing information openly boosts communication and alignment.
• Implement a speak-up culture — Actively ask people to share their thoughts without retaliation or objection. Giving people the space to express their ideas is crucial to psychological safety.
2. Understand which tasks to delegate
Leadership delegation shouldn't be about assigning mundane tasks to relieve your workload. An ideal delegation task is not critical or time sensitive, as too much pressure can cause employees to fail. It is ideally something you have the time to prepare for as well as train someone in.
Speak with people to see who is interested in learning opportunities. Ensure you know what your team prioritises, and which roles are best aligned. Delegating tasks that feel irrelevant may cause frustration.
Another important consideration is whether the work is recurring. If so, delegate it to a person with the necessary energy and time.
3. Offer guidance without interfering
Resist the urge to provide strict instructions for completing a task. While you may have set techniques, delegation is about enabling someone else to figure out strategies for themselves, and what is actually important is the result of the completion of the task, far more than the way it is done, compliance issues aside. Provide guidance, and tools such as documents, and outline expectations and your desired outcome.
Set specific times and dates for check-in meetings and keep your office door open for support.
4. Invest in training
Delegation is a beneficial learning tool, but it is not without drawbacks. As mentioned, organisations without trust or a safe culture may suffer negative consequences from delegation. Leaders can overwhelm employees with too many tasks and burden them with priorities that do not align with their purpose.
With that said, delegation benefits far outweigh the negatives. For support in prioritising your tasks and understanding where to focus and help others, executive leadership coaching can help. Contact our CEO for a free, impartial chat to see how our coaching programmes can support you.