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Why delegate?

Iowa Biz blog delegation photo puzzle pieceRita Perea is president of Rita Perea Leadership Coaching and Consulting, specializing in working with senior leaders and managers to successfully establish executive presence, lead high-performing teams, engage employees, manage change and create work/life balance.

One of the most important, but unfortunately overlooked, leadership skills to develop for career success is delegation. Some people define it as “letting go.” I believe that it is really a matter of streamlining your workload to increase your available time to manage people and projects more effectively. Better delegation ultimately results in a more motivated, involved staff, less stress and enhanced work-life balance.

American businesswoman Jessica Jackley, who co-founded Kiva micro-loans, believes that, “Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do.” She credits much of her success to the art of successful delegation.

In the past, delegation was typically a top-down activity with the work load flowing from the top of the organization downward. Today with our flatter organizational structures and remote work teams, there are many more opportunities to delegate: up to managers, down to subordinates and horizontally to peers and workmates. Often overlooked is the fact that delegation requires a high level of trust to work well. You want to find those people in your organization where you have a relationship based on trustworthiness, mutual respect and mutual purpose. That is the natural place for successful delegation to occur.

As I consult with executives to sharpen their leadership skills, I share these seven essential keys for successful delegation:

1. Plan it out: Consider how you will manage a project before you delegate it. If you can’t manage it, maybe you should rethink delegating it.

2. Decide on the intended results and the level of responsibility: What are the goals that you need this project to achieve? What is the level of decision-making responsibility that you are willing to delegate along with the project? Are you giving the other person free rein to make project decisions or do they need to check in with you or someone else at every turn?

3. Select the right person for the job: Remember, delegation is built on the foundation of a relationship built on trust, mutual respect and mutual purpose. Be sure that the person you are delegating to has the skills needed to accomplish the project, has the organization’s best interest in mind and will support you in your endeavors.

4. Communicate, communicate, communicate: Do you wish that people could read your mind? Maybe it is a good thing that they can't. Write out the pertinent details of the project for the person you are delegating to. Provide some structure or a visual model of what you are seeking as an end result. Provide clarity in the goals, controls and agreed upon check points to discuss the project's progress.

5. Write it down: This is a little trick that I learned when I was managing a large team and delegating frequently. I kept a delegation notebook to help me track key details and checkpoints in projects. I would capture notes in my notebook in front of the person I delegated to. This let my direct report know that I was not going to forget what I was delegating to them. It was a visual clue that I had a tool for tracking the details and holding them accountable. It was easy for me to point out that we had a discussion and agreed upon key details when I had it documented in my delegation notebook.

6. Hold the other person accountable: Sure, there are times when deadlines are missed, mistakes are made, and we might want to extend the benefit of the doubt to the person we delegated an important project to. Before you get sucked into some sob story about why a project is not farther along in the timeline, realize that being held accountable is a professional development opportunity for your co-worker. Think twice before you accept their excuses. It might be better to get them back on track and manage the project a bit more closely with weekly meetings or updates in a constructive, positive way.

7. Create a motivating work environment: A recent Gallup poll indicated that 61 percent of all American workers did not receive praise for their work last year and believe that they are disengaged employees. To create a more motivating culture, say the magic words  “please” and “thank you”. Show people that you value their contributions. Give praise to co-workers for a job well-done. People who feel genuinely appreciated will want to work with you on projects and will put their best efforts forward.

Delegation is a powerful tool for empowering others to shine at doing their best work. If done well, it allows you to spend focused time at work doing your best work, too, which decreases stress. Decreased stress increases positive work-life balance. And who doesn’t want to feel more balanced and in control of their time and their life?

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