In The Turn

Mastering the Art of Delegation: Five Steps for Letting Go and Empowering Others

The idea of delegation goes back forever.

As communities formed, tasks were delegated based on skills and experiences that would best help the group. Some hunted. Some gathered. Some drew stick figures on the walls in caves. As cultures evolved into villages, cities, kingdoms, and empires, the delegation evolved with it. Not only did people gravitate toward certain roles, but they found that delegation provided a way to train new leaders (and other workers) for the roles that were essential for survival.

As old and proven as this solution is, however, it’s still one leaders struggle with, especially during times of growth. This is when you, as a craftsman, have to challenge yourself to grow into the role of a real leader—someone who can let go and empower and equip others around you.

People who really like to be in control and who are really good at what they do often struggle to hand things off to others. And when they do, they face the temptation to jump back in and take over at the first sign of trouble. “I can do it quicker.” “I can do it faster.” “I can certainly do it better than this team because I’m the master craftsman.” “I’m the one that designed this program or built the relationship with this client or developed this process.”

But when you turn roles and responsibilities over to other people, you have to give them the good stuff that goes with it. You must release them to lead. You can’t give somebody a responsibility but take the credit for what happens when they do their job. Or you can’t give somebody a client relationship but hold on to it so the client still keeps calling you.

There’s one key principle I’ve learned over time that has helped me solve my most painful delegation problems, and it’s this:

Focus on what only you can do and give the rest away.

As a leader, you may know how to do lots of things, but that doesn’t mean you should regularly do them all. In fact, continuing to do them won’t get you or your business where you want to go. In other words, what got you here won’t get you there.

So what should you give away?

All the good stuff – power, authority, credit, recognition, relationships, information, resources, knowledge, you name it. Everything you’ve worked so hard to get!

And that’s the challenge. That’s why so many leaders hit the wall at this point and can’t push through. They become a leader who holds tightly. But only by releasing and empowering others will you have the opportunity for exponential success – achieving goals far greater than you can achieve on your own and that you and your team will receive high praise for accomplishing.

Once you’ve given the good stuff away, there’s much more good stuff for you to focus on – and it’s those things only you can do and that bring the greatest value to the business. High impact, strategic items like developing a detailed growth plan for the business, investing in your top talent to get them to the next level, or putting in place a more robust strategy for driving revenue. Whatever it is, there are likely many more important things for you to tackle than what you’re doing now.

Five steps for effective delegation So how do you effectively hand things off? Here are five steps you can take to be a leader who releases.

  • Step 1: Consider what tasks someone else could take on. Start by making a list of the projects and ongoing responsibilities you are currently handling that another person on your team – or a new person all together — could assume if given the right resources, authority and ramp-up time.
  • Step 2: Assess the strengths of others. Next, make sure you have a clear understanding of your team members’ individual capabilities. This will allow you to determine who might be best suited to take on a new responsibility. In addition, you must also understand their interests and career goals for the long-run. This will allow you to give someone a stretch assignment that will allow them to grow in an area they would like to develop.
  • Step 3: Empower your team. Armed with a list of the projects and responsibilities you are willing to give to your team, make the match. Determine what to give to whom. Then once you’ve thought it through, arrange a time to meet with each person and share the new assignments you propose to give to them. Ask for their feedback, and gain their agreement on when/how the transition will happen. Announce the new responsibilities to the larger team to bring positive attention to those who are stepping up and to motivate others to be next.
  • Step 4: Coach for the win. Once you’ve handed something off, stay close enough to coach your team through the early stages of assuming responsibility. Resist the temptation to take something back at the first stumble. Instead, provide real-time feedback, ask clarifying questions, and offer support. This will allow your team to course-correct, gain confidence and continue moving forward in their new roles.
  • Step 5: Write a new job description for yourself. Now that you’ve shared responsibilities with others, consider what you can and should focus on going forward. Include these bigger-picture items as key responsibilities in your new job. Share these ideas with your supervisor or like-minded peers for feedback and refinement. Focus on these new tasks with a learner’s mindset, and use this opportunity to grow and develop new skills and capabilities for yourself.

If you don’t truly release leaders—if you don’t empower, equip, and enable them—you’ll discover that the talented, capable, smart people you worked so hard to get on your team will soon leave for some other team. And they should, because you aren’t providing opportunities for them to reach their destinations and enjoy their journeys. Why would anyone stay with somebody who’s selfish, driven by power, and hungry for credit?

That’s not the type of leader I want to be. I want to help people around me grow. I want to watch them soar. When you do that as a leader, you keep great people on your team and you engender loyalty, confidence, and commitment from them. They’ll walk through fire for you because you’re helping them grow and shine, too. Not coincidentally, that’s when your organization not only grows and shines, but soars.

I hope this post inspires you to become a leader who releases — not only for the benefit of others, but for your own growth, too. Because as you put this into practice, you’ll find you are releasing with one hand while reaching out to grasp new opportunities with the other.

The cycle of growth continues when you lead by letting go.

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