Back in my high school cross country days, my coach would sometimes send us out on the track at the end of practice for a team run. Once finished, practice was over, so we had every incentive to complete the run quickly. Inevitably, our slowest runner, Jim, would hold up the entire team and fall behind. We couldn’t finish until everyone finished.
One day our coach told Jim to go to the front and the rest of the team to follow. To my surprise, we completed the run faster than ever.
So what does this story have to do with delegation?
Effective delegation is the act of giving someone else the responsibility and authority to carry out an assignment or to represent you or your organization in a specific role. Conducted skillfully, delegation is one of the most powerful actions a leader can do to improve organizational performance. Through delegation, a leader can free up time for high payoff activities (see my article in May, 2015 issue), and develop employees for future advancement. But there is an equally important third benefit that is not as well-known.
When my cross country coach sent Jim to the front, he empowered Jim with real responsibility. He gave Jim the opportunity to “lead” instead of “follow”. With that responsibility, Jim gave that little extra effort that helped the entire team. He was more engaged. The same will happen with members of your team when you delegate real responsibility to them.
Despite the many benefits, leaders sometime struggle to effectively delegate. Often, they are hindered by fear and negative attitudes:
“I can do it better myself.”
“It will be easier if I just do it.”
“He already has too much to do and I don’t want to add more."
If you are tempted to put off delegation, remember that at some time in your career you didn’t know how to do what you can easily now do. Someone invested time to teach you. Training someone may involve considerable time and effort, but weigh this against the long-term permanent savings that will eventually be yours. Effective delegation will maximize the strengths and contributions of others, and provide motivational and developmental opportunities for your team.
Effective delegation requires much more than simply handing out a new task. It requires thoughtful assignment and training. Next month I will describe the specific methods and techniques you can use to improve the effectiveness of delegation in your organization.