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Become Better at Delegating in 4 Steps

There comes a point in your career where you must move from doing to teaching. After all, you can’t continue to do everything, plus take on new responsibilities. Your bosses expect you to figure this out and your team doesn’t want to be micromanaged. But how do you let go and maintain the same quality standards? To become more essential and less involved? Success relies on defining the vision and guardrails without actually doing the work yourself.

Here are 4 steps you can take right now to give your teams “the pleasure of contributing,” as Gretchen Rubin likes to call it. They’ll help you evolve into the kind of leader that people love.

  1. Delegate problems, not tasks
  2. Set approach and expectations
  3. Empower your team to make decisions
  4. Establish a feedback loop

Delegate Problems

This is straight from a Medium article by The Founder Coach Dave Bailey. Rather than assigning tasks, defining a problem gives your team the opportunity to assume ownership. It becomes their problem to solve, and encourages them to push beyond tasks and redirect if things aren’t going anywhere. “By meaningfully involving other people in the project, you develop those people’s skills and abilities.”

You’ve experienced problem solvers IRL. Think about the last painful customer service experience you had. The task masters have no vested interest in helping you. They’re content to stay in their lanes. Sorry not sorry. It’s only once you escalate to a problem solver that things actually get done. They’re the ones with the authority to fix things.

You want problem solvers working for you, not task masters.

Set Expectations

Defining the problem can get you closer to completion, but it doesn’t guarantee it will get solved the way you would do it. Here’s where it’s helpful to provide an example. Britta Alexander, Head of Retail Experience at Publicis Sapient, gave us this tip. “Identify what ‘good’ looks like and arm your teams with those examples.”

So rather than say “Make me a content calendar for all our social media posts,” you can provide sample posts that depict the tone and content that you’re envisioning. 

Successful delegating depends on clear direction and well-defined goals. Think about the most effective meetings you’ve been to. They begin with an agenda and end with action items being prioritized and assigned. If you don’t know where you’re going, how can you expect your team to? 

Empower Your Team

Take a page from David Ogilvy: “Don’t hire a dog and then bark yourself.” That’s silly. If you’ve defined the problem and given your team the resources to solve it, they should be able to run with it. Meet with them to define the process if you’re worried about things slipping through the cracks. You can even have them document it so you don’t have to repeat yourself later. I’m having our new Operations Manager keep a running process manual so future hires can refer to it.

Don’t hire a dog and then bark yourself.

David Ogilvy

Finally, make sure everyone knows that you’re transferring authority. Use it as an opportunity to promote your team members to clients and vendors, e.g. “Chelsea is managing our library of case studies and can help you find what you need for new business pitches.”

Create a Feedback Loop

Figure out when and how you want your team to check in. Going back to my social media calendar example, I didn’t want to be on the hook for approving each post just before it went live or coming up with content on the fly. Instead, we have a monthly planning meeting to block out the calendar and identify any content holes. And we’ve created templates and themes to streamline approvals. All our posts for the next 2 weeks are staged on Buffer, then I take 15 minutes every Friday to approve them. Life changing!

Think about how you can apply these 4 steps to all the activities you need to delegate, e.g. Business development, deck writing, training, etc. Then resist the urge to swoop in! “If all else fails, take a vacation,” advises Britta. It will train you to thoroughly brief your team and let them assume ownership. “At first, all the preparation didn’t seem worth it,” she says. “But when I returned, the teams were humming along. I was able to let the teams continue and limit my involvement to high-level feedback. It was a solid lesson in the importance of securing the right resources, and the value of taking the time to onboard, train, and delegate.”

Last, feedback doesn’t always need to be “Do this, not that.” Make sure to recognize contributions. A sincere “I’m glad to have your input on this” goes a long way!

What if you don’t have the right skill sets in place to be able to delegate? Maybe you need to hire some people! We can help with that!

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