Leadership Simplified: Doug Van Dyke


It could be done, it should be done, it will be done… by somebody else!

Volume: June 2018

Donna is a superwoman. Especially at work. Early in her career she had the mantra of “Lead by Example” drilled into her head. As a result, she does it all. She sets a vision, helps to germinate ideas, tests alternatives, and drives meetings to communicate her group’s direction. Then, she rolls up her sleeves and helps with implementation. Yes, Donna can do it all. As much as her team likes her and respects her work ethic, they also worry about her. Her work-life balance is heavily skewed towards work. Donna’s team is frequently frustrated with her because they feel she has her fingers in everything everybody does. On occasion there are even murmurs of “Doesn’t she trust us?” Donna is quite the perfectionist, and sometimes she feels like she is the only person who can do a task right. Even though her perfectionism drives high quality, Donna’s team has problems. Many people feel that Donna is the main problem. The core issue is that Donna does not delegate.  
Donna is not the only talented professional who has trouble delegating. Many of you may pass on opportunities to delegate tasks and projects. Since there are hurdles to delegating effectively, let’s examine some of the reasons why leaders choose not to delegate.
Many leaders visualize what a completed task or project will look like. Then, they think about what is needed to finish the task properly. Finally, they engage in a heated debate in their own minds during which they falsely convince themselves that “I’m the only person who can do this right” or “it will take me just as much time to explain the task as it will for me to just do it.” In the end, the leader keeps the task on their own plate. As a result, they become overwhelmed, overworked, and in possession of a not-so-healthy work-life balance. 
To improve the delegation process, two psychological hurdles need to be examined. The first involves perfectionism. My experience has shown that a large percentage of successful leaders are perfectionists. It’s not a bad trait, but it is something we must use intelligently if we ever hope to effectively delegate.
The second hurdle is “a lack of comfort with letting people fail.” This may sound like an odd statement, but let’s face it, most of us are uncomfortable watching people struggle, especially if we could have prevented it by just doing something ourselves. Of course, we never want to set anyone up for failure. Yet, we always learn from our mistakes and failures.  
The keys to overcoming these hurdles to delegation are as follows:

  1. Acknowledge. Admit that at times, you are a perfectionist. Also, realize that even though someone may complete a task differently than you or with a different final appearance, it can still be good and useful. Challenge your comfort zone and give others a chance to show what they can accomplish!
  2. Accept. People can learn a great deal by struggling and even failing. In other words, consciously strive to become comfortable with people occasionally failing so that they can grow. If your direct reports are game to take on juicy, complicated tasks, give them the leverage to do so. The vast majority of the time they will succeed. If not, think about how much they will learn.

Keep in mind that the skill of delegation is closely related to growing and developing people. If you want those around you to grow, jettison the psychological baggage that is preventing you from consistently delegating. With baggage properly stowed (seats upright, tray tables locked), we can now examine the finer points of how to effectively delegate. It’s simple: communicate and share your expectations. The flavor of the conversation with the “delegatee” may include some or all of the following nine items.

  1. Timeframe. What is the desired completion date and/or time relating to the task you are delegating? Be specific. If you expect completion by Thursday at 9am – say so. Do not just say Thursday. They may be thinking they have until Thursday at 4:59pm to get it to you. By being specific with your expected timeframe you set everyone up for success.
  2. Updates. How often and in what form do you want to be apprised of the status of the delegated task? If you expect an update, simply request one. Be certain to specify if you want a verbal update, a written update, or a show of work product.
  3. Directions. Explain the basics of what you are delegating. If the delegatee wants more direction, let them ask. Do not insult your team members by telling them how to do everything.
  4. Authority. This may seem like an odd topic for a discussion on delegation, however, it can be one of the most important elements of accomplishing more through others. If the person to which you delegate something must coordinate with others who have higher organizational titles, make certain to inform them that your delegatee speaks for you. Don’t set people up for failure. Let others know that your delegate has the authority to request information and to give direction. Communicate that you have granted the authority that is required to accomplish the delegated task.
  5. Point Person. If you are delegating to a group, make certain that one person is selected as the group leader. This action will increase the level of group accountability. In addition, it puts the ultimate responsibility of task-completion on the shoulders of one person and gives you a clear point of contact with the group.
  6. Resources. Communicate what resources, if any, will be at the delegatee’s disposal. Are they plentiful? Will they have virtually no resources available? Just let the person that is receiving the delegated task know what they have at their disposal.
  7. Availability. This has to do with your availability. Will you be available for questions or to provide additional direction? Are they totally on their own? Be honest so they can adjust and accomplished accordingly.
  8. Express Confidence. Share with the other person that you would not have delegated something to them if you did not believe in their abilities. This can strengthen rapport with team members, while it sets the expectation of successful outcomes.  
  9. Cheerlead. If your delegatee does a good job, lavish praise upon them. If they fail, coach them and let them know that you believe that next time, they will succeed. If you have successfully executed items 1-8, cheering on your team member should be a breeze.  

By leveraging these nine best practices, structure and depth will be added to the tasks you delegate. In the process, you will better position your team members for success. While seemingly commonsensical, delegation can be a difficult challenge. Yet, there are four major benefits to effective delegation.

  1. It will free up valuable work time that you need to complete higher tasks.
  2. It will lower your stress level and give you the opportunity to maintain a better work-life balance. This leads to higher long-term productivity and less incidence of burnout.
  3. It will help to develop other people. Leaders cannot grow and advance if others do not grow and advance. Plus, your top performers are often very motivated by being entrusted with tasks and projects that you once completed.
  4. It will build morale. By showing confidence in others and then giving them praise for a job well done, leaders build group self-esteem and maintain a sense of optimism.

Bottom Line: One of the core jobs of a high-impact leader is to accomplish more through others. This calls for you to be a relentless delegator, while still impressing on your team that you are personally productive and contributing to team results. While excellent leaders cultivate the organization’s culture, they will never have enough time to truly lead if they are not effective delegators and time managers. Make delegation a process, set people up to win, and help your team learn and grow.
Until next time, be well!
Doug Van Dyke is a Tampa Bay based executive coach, leadership development expert, and strategic planner. He delegates everything he can to the amazing team with which he works. To learn more about leadership development programs, coaching, strategic planning, or to have Doug speak at your next event, visit www.leadershipsimplified.com or email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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