Delegation: An Extension of Your Hands
“I not only use all the brains I have, but all I can borrow.” — Woodrow Wilson, 28th President of the United States
“The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.” — Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States.
Smart leaders soon learn the value of delegating responsibilities and authority to team members. You can try to do it all, but if you do, you’ll keel over within a few weeks from sheer exhaustion. Obviously, you need metaphorical hands to extend your reach.
You have a staff for a reason. Ideally, each possesses talents, knowledge, and abilities that combine to form the extra hands Mother Nature didn’t see fit to give you. That being the case, here’s how to implement a helping HANDS approach to keep your team properly aligned with organization strategy, without tipping you over the edge into overwork.
1. Handpick your people. Select each new team member with an eye for the skill-set they bring to the table, aiming for a little overlap without excess redundancy. Get to know each person well. Determine their strengths and weaknesses, consider how team members work best together, and select the task(s) you believe each can handle best.
2. Assign duties carefully. Meet with your team members (or at least your team leads, if you oversee a large group) and parcel out the range of tasks they have authority over. Define their limits of authority carefully, to avoid duplication, but make sure there aren’t any cracks for tasks to fall through.
3. Nurture initiative and innovation. While it helps to have a specific way to do everything, those processes exist to help new workers hit the ground running—not to straightjacket them. In a memorable scene in Captain America, a sergeant tells a group of soldiers out on a run that if one of the men can retrieve the flag from atop a tall flagpole, he’ll get a ride back to the barracks. After several soldiers fail to climb the pole, wimpy Steve Rogers takes a look at it, pulls a pin at the base, and pushes it over with his foot. He retrieves the flag and trades it for his ride back to the barracks. In the real world of business, give your people the opportunity to surprise you with their solutions to the tasks you assign.
4. Delegate, don’t abdicate! Keep a high-level eye on both team and individual workflow. Intervene only if someone doesn’t do their fair share or fouls the works, and do whatever you must to repair one person’s productivity before it throws the whole team’s out of whack. Remember: as the boss, you bear ultimate responsibility for every team member’s success and failure.
5. Study the results. Has delegating reduced your task list to a manageable length? If not, intensify your efforts. Resolve to handle only those high-value items you do best, or must do as part of your job. In addition, determine how your delegating has impacted the team workflow process. Do you have a well-oiled machine on your hands, or does it move forward in fits and starts? If the latter, rethink who does what and how, clear the obvious blockages, and consider whether you should add additional members to the team.
The Classic Strategy
We all get the same ration of time, so time management boils down to self management. Delegation forms the backbone of any managerial time/self management strategy; so if you do nothing else to make your job easier, at least learn to delegate well. That way, you can multiply and extend the hands and brains you were given, accomplishing much more than you ever could alone.