When I started working with an executive coach, my first painful realization was that I was terrible at delegation. I always thought I was great at delegating because I would fully think out an assignment, including all the steps that needed to be done to get the task accomplished, before I gave them to anyone and I would do it myself if I thought the person I was delegating to was too busy or would find the assignment too hard or too boring. My coach Antoine noticed that this was a pattern and asked me how I liked to receive delegated assignments and I told him I liked hard projects that challenged me and where I had the freedom to be creative with how the project was to be completed. Oh, *#@%&! That is the exact opposite of how I had been delegating. A word of warning if you ever decide to get a coach, they have a way a revealing your deepest imperfections and it really stinks. The upside is that you can learn to fix those flaws, so that's what I've been doing with the delegation issue. After a year of soul searching and practicing on EPIP committee members and our administrative staff has taught me a few lessons that I'll share with you:
Don't delegate what you can eliminate- Before you can effectively delegate, you need to be ruthless with your to do list. Don't give someone else busy work, make sure that you are delegating tasks that will help you complete projects that are important and make a difference to the success of your organization.
Delegate the objective, not how it is done- This one was a killer for me because I had an idea of how a project should move forward and I had the unconscious belief that my way was the only way. When I first started delegating projects without step by step instructions I was amazed at the final results that I got back. New perspectives solved problems that I didn't even know I had and people really shine when you don't hamstring them with a ton of directions.
Delegate authority, not just the work- When you give people the freedom to make decisions you eliminate the biggest bottleneck to getting work done, YOU. Be available for questions but help people get in the habit of coming to you with their recommendations. This moves things along faster because when someone has a question, they usually already have an answer in mind and it is usually better than what you would come up with on the fly, with incomplete information.
Delegate things that you are not good at, and don't want to be good at- Never delegate a task that could help you grow and a learn a new skill, unless it's a skill that you are not interested in having. I could learn to change my oil but it's not a skill that I want to develop, so I delegate it. If someone has a strength in Access or graph-making or statistics and you don't, by all means let them do it. These are things that take a lot of time to learn but can be done quickly by someone who has experience doing it. Save everyone some time and let it go.
Delegate things that you are good at- Sometimes when you are really good at doing something you have a hard time being satisfied with the final result. I am very good at researching program and demographic information on the web. The problem with this is that I am always after the "perfect" statistic that will help me make a case to my board. I'll keep searching until I find exactly what I am looking for, which could take forever. If I delegated that same task to someone else with a time frame, they will find a great quote that helps me build the case. Learn to let things be "good enough".
Delegation is good management practice- I have moved from a position where I was a manager to a foundation position where I don't manage people directly. Delegation is good practice to make sure that I don't lose important management skills. If you are at a small shop where you don't have anyone to delegate to, you can delegate in your volunteer activities or you can even delegate parts of your personal life. A great article about that is here. A few months ago I decided that I wanted to add more substantive content to New Voices but I also knew that with a demanding job and two young kids at home, I couldn't dedicate a lot more time to the blog. That's where Jasmine Hall Ratliff came in. Jasmine was an ABFE Fellow with me and when I sent out a blanket email to hire a researcher for New Voices she answered the call. Jasmine has been helping me do a ton of research that will soon add some great features to this blog, so stay tuned.
Do you have any delegation tips or resources that you use for delegation? One of my new favorites for very specific projects is Elance.