When we’ve asked leaders what change they would make to become more effective, one of the most common answers is, “I would delegate more.” However, there is such a thing as inappropriate delegation, which can do more harm than good. Therefore, the goal is not merely to delegate more, but to delegate more effectively.
Effective delegation can empower a team, create more engagement, and provide the leader with greater capacity to focus on higher priority tasks. In fact, the ability to delegate effectively is a key part of becoming a successful executive.
Here’s how you can assist your clients in determining the right amount of delegation. First, let’s look at the two common behaviors related to ineffective delegation:
- The leader is micromanaging their subordinates and gets overly involved, or
- The leader is taking over tasks that could be handled more effectively by someone further down in the organization.
The 4 Steps to Effective Delegation
To help executives arrive at an adequate level of delegation, we recommend the following four steps:
Step 1: Ask each direct report to list their key responsibilities. For each responsibility, ask, “Does your leader take on tasks that you feel you should be doing? Could your leader provide more support?” In this safe space, direct reports can share their honest thoughts about the leader’s performance to help you guide the dialogue for step #2.
Step 2: Schedule one-on-one conversations for the leader and each of their direct reports. In this conversation, they will review each area of responsibility while the leader asks the following questions: “Are there cases where you believe that I get too involved and can let go more? Are there cases when I need to get more involved and give you some more help?” Typically, the executives themselves will notice areas where more delegation is wanted and others where more help is needed.
Step 3: Next, allow the direct reports to provide suggestions. Have the leader ask the following questions: “Are there tasks I’ve worked on that someone at my level doesn’t need to do? Are there areas where I can help other people grow and develop, and give myself more time to focus on other higher priority items?” The direct reports will almost invariably come up with valuable suggestions. At the end of each suggestion, the leader is only allowed to say, “Thank you.”
Step 4: Create an action plan with the leader based on the information gathered during those prior sessions. Ensure that the plan involves brief but regular check-ins to keep the leader accountable to these changes and the direct reports aware of the progress.
In this simple process, you are leveraging the power of questions. So, what happens if these questions don’t get asked? The executive is essentially flying blind and delegating without input. Tackling these tough questions can have astounding long-term benefits by significantly increasing the leader’s and the team’s effectiveness and overall business success.