The American industrialist Alfred P. Sloan once declared, “The most important thing I ever learned about management is that the work must be done by other men.”
A manager’s principal task is to get things done through other people. Therefore, delegation is one of the most important skills a manager can master.
In addition, being effective at delegation has benefits in many areas of life—enlisting a friend to repair a computer, or getting your kids to rearrange a bookshelf, for example.
Here are a few ideas for effective delegation.
- Delegate every task that can be performed just as well by someone who is paid less than you are.
- Pick people who can accept responsibility.
- Match the person to the task.
- Remember that the person performing the task may not do it as well as you do it.
- Build employees’ confidence by assigning low-risk projects at first. By giving employees tasks that are right at the limit of their existing capability, or even just beyond, you can motivate them to develop their skills and knowledge.
- Let employees put their own spin on the assignment. Learn to have faith in the ingenuity of your employees, and give much latitude in how they do things.
- Delegate outcomes, not just tasks. Identify the precise problem and define exactly what you want your employee to do.
- Confirm understanding. Don’t assume that your employee understands what we mean. Have the employee restate the outcome you’ve delegated in his own words.
- Give a due date for the assignment.
- Monitor what you delegate. Don’t meddle—an overly-engaged boss can create self-induced commotion. Effective managers delegate results when they can and interfere only when they must.
- Learn to be patient. Expect employees to make wrong decisions. Spend time with them to learn why a decision was wrong and how to avoid it the next time, rather than reproach or assign blame.
- Set the standards, but tell your employees what you’re willing to accept as tradeoffs of delegation. Offer to lend a hand wherever necessary. As Peter Drucker wrote in The Leader of the Future, “Effective leaders delegate, but they do not delegate the one thing that will set the standards. They do it.“
By learning to delegate effectively, you can create a work environment that is more time- and skills-efficient, foster creativity and opportunities for professional growth, and focus on the importance of managerial communication.
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