Welcome back to the Effective Leadership course! We will talk about how to delegate tasks effectively right after our lesson on communication not by coincidence and we will cover the 5W2H action plan here. After all, you delegate tasks by communicating with people. That is why it’s such a difficult task. In my experience, a big chunk of the errors comes from just that: ineffective communication.
Many leaders delegate tasks that are not even clear to themselves – so obviously, between encoding their thoughts and feelings and what the receiver understands, it’s bound to have a lot of noise; or often, the person does it in a hurry, not taking care in elaborating the message.
Task delegation is the art of being able to inform and hand over responsibility for completing a task. Knowing how to properly complete this transfer, and explaining what your expectations are, will be vital in your role as a manager.
I see two very common mistakes that leaders make before learning how to delegate tasks effectively. 1) They delegate everything without any care, because they believe that a leader doesn’t have to do anything. 2) For fear of losing control, they only delegate the simplest tasks that he or she perceives as too operational.
Why will learning how to delegate efficiently help you?
Delegating tasks efficiently is not a simple exercise. Successful delegation of tasks requires effort and a certain amount of time to fully understand the mechanisms and especially the advantages that exist in practicing this, but also for your team as a whole.
Let’s get to know some of the benefits of delegating tasks effectively. I see two general benefits: your employees will feel better and more empowered and you gain in productivity.
Your team will feel much better.
Only by delegating tasks well, we’ll be able to focus on the real purpose of our position as leaders and be the most beneficial to the company. You will also be able to dedicate more quality time to your direct reports. They will feel involved in the process, empowered and, thus, will have more initiative to make suggestions for improvement.
A good part of what allows people to be proactive is if they feel part of the process. Thus, you instill a sense of responsibility in your team, resulting in greater commitment, participation in meetings (and throughout the process), in addition to increasing motivation. Nowadays, it is noticeable how people want to feel more and more involved in the processes.
On paper, your time is very well allocated, right? You plan your routine in a way to be efficient and effective, you have a vision of the projects that you are working on. But we know what it’s like in real life. It is very common for us to find ourselves drowned in problems and inconveniences – which arrive intrusively. When you least expect it, you no longer know exactly what’s on your agenda, what’s a priority and, even worse, what your team is doing with precision.
Focus on your priority. Did you know that priority is a word that originally had no plural? Because it meant “first.” There is no way for you to have “priorities”. The goal is that you spend as little time as possible on what is neither important nor urgent for you (check out the Eisenhower Matrix).
You have to think about the concept of Leverage – I talk about it a lot in my Leadership course. You, as a leader, have to focus on what will have the greatest impact on your work. Logically, making sales for or with your team will bring results. But between that and you setting up an automation sales structure that saves 10 minutes per sale of your team, it is clear which one will have the most impact.
As a rule of thumb, working to improve your team members’ output is the highest leverage activity. cool?
When should you delegate tasks?
Now that you understand the two benefits of delegating, we need to understand how to know when to delegate a task to a team member. I’ll give you some very simple questions.
At a glance, to define whether you can and should delegate a task, ask yourself:
- If I delegate that task to that specific person, will it help me to focus on more essential tasks that will have more impact on my team?
- Are any members of my department that feel comfortable with this task that I want to hand over? Can they provide any new perspective to it?
- By delegating this task, will it help my team member improve his or her skills? Can this help my team to gain momentum?
- By delegating this task, will my direct report feel more fulfilled or can I reinforce my team’s mission?
- If I delegate this task, will I be able to take advantage of it to make my team feel more involved and more motivated?
If you answer yes to two or more honestly, you can delegate that task!
In order for you to practice and improve your ability to delegate tasks efficiently, you can start with small tasks and demands in which you notice that there is enthusiasm on the part of a member or your team. It can be the design of a presentation, to implement a change in the system or to serve a specific customer. As you gain more confidence (and they as well), you will move on to delegate more.
There’s one thing quite common at the beginning of those who are taking on a leadership position. They want to perform as many tasks as possible to get a feeling on how the work should be done. I think this is important – but be careful to not fall into the trap of feeling useless if you are not doing the operational work. Many first-time leaders still have this mindset that they are only useful if they are performing tasks directly or solving their team members’ problems.
Using the 5W2H action plan to learn how to delegate tasks effectively and simply.
Probably the simplest and best known task delegation model is the 5W2H action plan. It’s an acronym for: What, Why, Where, When, Who, How and How much.
By answering these questions when delegating tasks, you can be more confident to cover the basics of that project. You’ll have to talk about what will be done and how you expect it to be carried out, up to the deadline of the task, people involved, locations and budget.
In practice, there is no way to avoid talking about these areas when explaining a task, only that many times we end up worrying more the what, how and when parts, and we forget the rest. Well, I speak for myself here.
The 5W2H action plan will make sure that the rest will be covered with a very simple and straightforward checklist. It was designed for small and large companies – there is no difference. In fact, it is great when you aren’t so sure about the task, in case you have the impression of forgetting something. Run a 5W2H on it to check for potential issues.
Why is learning how to delegate tasks effectively so difficult?
The fear of delegation comes very often from the fact that the leader is afraid that the team member will fail the task. Remember: as a leader, the responsibility for them to carry out their job is completely yours, delegating it or not.
Delegating, therefore, does not come without a risk. It is up to you to assess the importance of it and to trust the task to the right person, in an appropriate way and to follow up on them, to minimize any risk of lack of commitment or insufficient competence.
I have seen many leaders delegate a task to their direct reports and no longer follow up on them, as if their responsibility had ended there. Then when you ask what happened to the task, the person has to go over his or her team because they simply have no idea of the stage of that project – claiming that it’s “handed over”, as if it meant “it is no longer my responsibility”.
In addition to this fear of a person’s inability to perform the task, the leader can mention a lack of time, confidence or discomfort induced by a feeling that they will be seen as incompetent. Some people even think that they have to do and control everything to justify their positions. Beware of over-responsibility, which can lead to exhaustion or burnout.
Your role as a leader is to ensure that the tasks are done and the results achieved, and not to do everything. Delegating effectively, especially for first-time leaders, can be a more difficult exercise especially in the beginning, but it will be essential for your career growth.
Some final tips on how to delegate tasks effectively, even without the 5W2H action plan:
Here is what happens: when we talk about delegating tasks, communication is of essence. To delegate is not to speak from A to Z everything you think about how the task should be done. Rather, make the person confident that they have everything they need and are able to perform the task, explaining very well the goal of it and what has to be achieved for you to declare the task completed.
Using phrases like “if you achieve this result, it will be perfect” is ideal. Remember: the result is probably what matters the most, not how you get there. Of course, it depends a lot on the context, because there are several situations in which specific things need to be done.
So, always start by talking about the task giving the why. Why is this task being done? Who will receive it, in the sense of who is the “client” of the task? Every task has a client. What will happen after the task is completed? All of this helps to give the person a little more context. If he or she understands who is going to use the results of the task and how, it is easier for them to pay attention closely to the results.
Also explain about restrictions and conditions. Do you need it to be done using the tool x or y? How long does it take to be fulfilled? Are there deadlines or intermediate deliveries?
Obviously, make the tools available. As you explain how to perform the task, make sure that your team has the necessary tools to do their job – and the resources needed in general. How to contact the supplier, how to deal with them, how to pay them, the task management tool, these things. It will be very bad if the person who received the task comes to you, close to the deadline, and realizes that something vital is unavailable or that they don’t have a piece of information.
Leave your team member autonomous: if you are delegating, it is because you trust. Now let the person truly responsible for the task. This is how to delegate tasks effectively. Making the person at ease does not mean never asking them about the task again, on the contrary, you must follow up on them. What is not followed is not valued.
If you don’t occasionally ask how the task is, it will probably be seen as a task that you didn’t want to do yourself and you just left it for someone else. To delegate is not to disclaim responsibility for it, remember that.
Delegating efficiently will be one of your most common tasks as a leader.
To wrap up this lesson, it’s essential to stress the importance of learning how to delegate. You will practice this with time, and in the end, you will memorize and use the 5W2H action plan by heart. I use this model all the time because it is the most basic one and covers everything.
Just to give a quick example: usually, when I have more time, I execute the task the first time and then watch the person do it. As a third step, they do it alone and I only see the final result.
You don’t need to act as a nanny or dictator here, you don’t have to be one or the other. But a manager and a leader. And as a leader it is very important that you think about what will bring the best results for the company and how to reconcile the interests of the people involved. As we say in my hometown: better than that, just twice that.
To recap what we saw in this lesson:
We saw that delegating tasks is the art of handing over effectively the responsibility for completing a task to another person.
We learned that delegating helps employees feel more motivated and that this will increase their productivity too, because you can then work on tasks with higher leverage. Usually, for your team.
The most basic model of how to delegate tasks effectively is the 5W2H action plan: what, why, where, when, who, how and how much.
In the next lesson, How to run meetings, we will talk about the types of meetings and, of course, how to behave and to prepare for each one.
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Always look both ways. See you in the future.