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Avoid the trap of doing urgent, important work yourself when it’s better delegated

Linda Clark-Santos: Leadership
Linda Clark-Santos: Leadership Boise State University

Last month this column focused on the how and why of effective delegation. This month the focus shifts to when, who and what.

What should you consider?

Urgency: Delegating a task takes more time than doing the work yourself. In an urgent situation, you may believe there is no time to delegate. However, that extra time to communicate and coach is an investment. If you delegate well, team members will gain experience and confidence, thus allowing them to work more independently. Resist the temptation to say you are too busy to delegate.

Importance: When visibility and stakes are high, you may feel less freedom to delegate. The trap here is that every project and every task can masquerade as both urgent and important. Such thinking forever dooms you to doing work that others should be doing and limits your team’s productivity. This trap is especially seductive if you truly love the work.

Competence: Consider if someone would benefit from the growth the assignment might provide. Then ask yourself if the individual has the skills and attitude to execute satisfactorily. If not, consider whether the need is more training or more encouragement. Everyone has development needs, and your job as the manager is to address them. If your team repeatedly comes up short, figure out what they need to improve and then provide it. Or conclude that you have the wrong people on your team.

Authority: When delegating, you give your employee responsibility to get the job done. Without also offering appropriate authority, you are setting the employee up to fail. The temptation here is for you to retain all authority but pass off responsibility. That’s a dubious deal likely to backfire.

Successful delegation finds the sweet spot between doing everything yourself and fully abdicating. Finding that spot can develop your team, free you to do more strategic work, optimize productivity and prevent you from burning out.

Sweet, indeed.

Linda Clark-Santos, Ph.D., is a consultant and executive coach. This column appears in the July 19-August 15, 2017, edition of the Idaho Statesman’s Business Insider magazine. Click here for the Statesman’s e-edition, which includes Business Insider (subscription required).