Delegating is a relevant tool in a leadership role that sounds simple and logical, but is not easy for many leaders. Delegating involves transferring responsibility and tasks from a leader to employees. Being able to delegate is a crucial skill in modern leadership as it not only relieves leaders but also empowers employees. When leaders delegate tasks to competent team members, they can focus more on strategic tasks. For employees, delegation provides an opportunity for personal growth and professional development. They have the chance to learn new skills, face challenges, and gain confidence in themselves and their abilities.
In this blog post, we will briefly summarize what successful delegation looks like, the challenges that arise, and the steps that can help.
Why should one delegate?
Successful delegation brings a wealth of benefits, both for leaders and employees as well as teams as a whole. For leaders, it enables efficient use of their time and resources by allowing them to focus on their core responsibilities while delegating tasks to qualified team members. This can lead to more effective decision-making as responsibilities are distributed among multiple shoulders and the leader is not involved in every little detail themselves.
For employees, delegation provides an excellent opportunity for professional and personal development. They are encouraged to learn new skills and take on responsibility. When tasks are delegated meaningfully, employees can better utilize their strengths, focus on more challenging tasks, and implement their own ideas directly.
Delegation also strengthens trust and collaboration within the team as everyone is encouraged to take responsibility and contribute to shared success. Direct communication channels can be utilized more effectively when everything no longer has to go through the leader.
What to look out for when delegating?
Although there are many benefits, some challenges can arise when one aims to delegate more.
The greatest challenge for the leader is themselves. Their implicit assumptions about the capabilities of others and the lack of trust in the abilities of employees can be challenges, of which they are sometimes not even aware. Being able to delegate responsibility also means losing control. Just the feeling of it can already lead to not even attempting to delegate. This has little to do with the actual abilities of the team members, but rather with the insecurities of the leader.
One challenge in the process is identifying which tasks can be delegated. It can also be difficult to strike the right balance between tasks that can be delegated and those that should be handled by the leader.
One of the biggest challenges is delegating the right tasks to the right people. It requires a good understanding of each team member's skills and strengths.
Once you know who can handle what, another challenge is clear communication about expectations and goals. A lack of shared understanding about the purpose and goals of task completion can lead to unnecessary extra work and frustration for both parties.
An additional challenge is finding the right balance between delegation and individual responsibility. Too much delegation can make employees feel overwhelmed. On the other hand, too little delegation can make team members feel underutilized or lacking trust, with the added tasks only being pseudo-delegated because it is stated in the organization's leadership guidelines.
In addition, the leader must provide support and resources for employees to fulfill their assigned tasks. Letting go does not mean let them go alone without any support from you.
Successfully Delegating in four Steps
Especially if you have been leading in a more hands-on way so far, you need to give yourself and the team time. Every change in leadership behavior also has an impact on the relationship level and team dynamics, as existing roles are broken up. Delegating does not simply mean handing over tasks, but also creating space for employees to assume the newly acquired responsibility. Psychological safety is the foundation for an empowering team climate.
- Conduct a team workshop: In a joint workshop, the leader should discuss with the team their understanding of the individual roles, the respective expectations when more delegation takes place, and what needs to change in collaboration. This creates a shared commitment. The importance of this step should not be underestimated. For all participants, this can be a tremendous challenge as established processes are changed. This step is even more difficult if the leadership has been more directive in the past.
- Evaluate tasks and responsibilities: The leader should list their own tasks and mark which tasks can be delegated and which cannot. One criterion can be: strategic topics vs. specialist topics.
- Distribute tasks and responsibilities: According to their respective competencies, tasks should be handed over to employees. However, this should be done in a mutual exchange with the respective individuals to discuss what support they need and to prevent it from leading to additional work only. The one-on-one meetings should also address the expectations and agreements developed in the workshop.
- Agree on feedback and check-ins: Not every employee feels equally comfortable with the newly gained freedoms and responsibilities. For the leader as well, letting go is often a learning process. Therefore, regular feedback conversations and check-ins should take place to address uncertainties on both sides.
Delegating is often casually mentioned as a task of modern leadership. However, it initially requires more energy than expected. But in the long run, it can be a significant relief and improve productive collaboration within the team. By following a clear and participatory process and providing regular feedback, potential difficulties in delegation can be effectively addressed and proactively tackled.
Furthermore, it is important to remember that improving delegation skills is an ongoing developmental process. Every leader, regardless of their level of experience, can further develop and enhance their competencies in this area. So, be patient with yourself. Use the four steps as a starting point with the aim of continuous learning for both you and your team.