Ten questions leaders must ask before they delegate to others

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Over recent weeks in different coaching sessions, discussion has centred on delegation and the leader’s role. Many leaders find it difficult to express what they mean by delegation, and they are unaware essential elements need to be present for effective delegation to occur.

Let’s start with a simple, clear definition of delegation. Delegation is entrusting responsibility (for something) to a trusted person or group. Delegating means letting others become the experts.

For delegation to be effective the scope of what is being delegated needs to be clearly understood, agreed, and accepted, by both the leader and team member to whom the task is being delegated. The person to whom the work is being delegated has to:

  • Be willing to take personal responsibility for their actions;
  • Take accountability for delivering what has been agreed within the nominated timeframe;
  • Understand the methods by which progress and the final outcomes will be measured e.g. a date by which the work is to be completed;
  • Have the required authority to take the necessary actions/decisions to achieve the required outcomes.

It is this last point that many leaders find most challenging as they are often unwilling to assign the required authority or the team member is unwilling to request the authority they require. By providing authority to act, leaders willingly give real power to strengthen others. Giving up some level of control can mean an increase in the level of risk. Further, the leader has to take responsibility for managing risk. This is often why many managers stop short of giving authority.

The result is frustration on both sides. From the leader’s perspective the time taken to achieve the outcomes is usually longer than acceptable because the team member has to return to them for decisions they could quite easily make if they had the appropriate authority and as a result the quality of the final outcomes may not be as high as desired.

The team member feels blocked by having to constantly seek authority to act or move to the next stage. People also report that when authority levels are lacking learning from the task or project is inhibited as the opportunity to learn from making the relevant decisions is lost.

Delegation Checklist

As a leader, these are the ten questions you need to ask yourself when you are about to delegate a task:

  1. Is this important and real work that is about to be delegated?
  2. Will the team member being assigned this work find it sufficiently challenging?
  3. Will the task provide opportunities for them to expand their knowledge, skills, and experience?
  4.  In relation to this work, what is this person’s current level of knowledge, skills, experience, and motivation; can they do this task?
  5.  Have responsibilities, accountabilities, and how the outcomes are to be measured, been agreed?
  6.  Have the necessary authority levels been assigned to allow this person to undertake and complete the task within the agreed timeframe?
  7.  Have the risks been properly assessed?
  8. Are the necessary mechanisms in place to support this person achieve the agreed outcomes?
  9.  Can this person be trusted to undertake and complete this task they are about to be assigned?
  10.  What is the back-up plan should an unforseen critical situation arise?

Each day a lot of what is stated to be delegation is merely assigning work to be done to someone else without much thought. Real delegation is an essential leadership skill that promotes learning and engagement when done correctly.

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