Many people think of delegation as a skill applicable only to the workplace. In fact, delegation is an important skill for many facets of our lives. Whether you are the one doing the delegating or recipient of the delegating, you can benefit by understanding the process. 

In our desert, there are many situations in which effective delegation is important for success beyond the workplace. There are hundreds of nonprofit organizations producing major fundraisers and projects. They all require much delegation by the boards, committees and members contributing their time for a common goal. 

We delegate every day in normal family life, as well with household duties such as cleaning, taking out trash, preparing meals and organizing the home. Dinner parties and annual holiday parties will have more successful outcomes with good delegation skills.  

What is delegation? The textbook definition refers to the transfer of responsibility for specific tasks from one person to another.

What is the difference between delegating and dumping? Delegating is a powerful skill that can be beneficial to all involved. Dumping has the opposite effect. Delegating involves assigning tasks and responsibility to others and giving them authority and control to make decisions. Dumping is quite different. It involves assigning uninteresting tasks or grunt work to others without the authority to take control of the process. Giving responsibility without authority becomes dumping and leads to frustration and dissatisfaction. 

What are the benefits of effective delegation? For the persons receiving the assignments, it can contribute to their growth, development, self-esteem and sense of belonging. For those delegating, it can spread the workload to others and create a more skilled team that can share more of the responsibility. For an organization, it can increase productivity and morale as more people develop skills. 

Start the process: analyze the task. Since the process of delegation consists of linking a member with a specific task, the leader must first analyze the task at hand before engaging with the team member. 

  1. What is the task and its scope?
  2. How complex is it?
  3. What will success look like if the task is successfully completed?
  4. What barriers are likely and should be anticipated?
  5. What resources will be needed?

A major source of frustration for all concerned can be failure of the leader to paint a very clear and detailed picture of what success should look like. Leaders must be very specific about their expectations.

Select a team member. Once the task is clear in the mind of the leader, it is necessary to select the team member with the appropriate skill set as well as the willingness to accomplish the goal. 

  1. Does the team member have the expertise (technical and otherwise) to succeed?
  2. Do they have the experience with similar situations that have fostered understanding of what might lie ahead?
  3. Do they know how to communicate progress and request assistance and feedback?
  4. Does the team member have the mindset and skillset to succeed?

Once the leader has developed an understanding of what success should look like and has identified “a good fit” in a well-qualified team member, the process of delegation can begin. The leader must communicate why the task is important and how it will benefit the team and organization.

Specific time frames and resource needs should be defined and addressed. Obstacles to be overcome should be identified. Further, a process of communication should be developed, for example, how often will a progress report be given? Should it be in writing, in person or both? What happens when the project hits a roadblock? What are the milestones to be met and how will they be communicated and celebrated?   

Dilemmas and pitfalls. Leaders are faced with the dilemma of how closely or loosely to be involved with the project. Other pitfalls include inadequate resources, failure to measure progress along the way, and failure to celebrate “small successes” to maintain momentum and positive energy. It is best for the leader to describe the desired outcome and then let the person to whom the task was delegated figure out how to get there. General George Patton warned, “Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.”  

Delegation, like other leadership skills, can be practiced and developed over time. Leaders in business, non-profits and in families can use delegation to mentor and coach others, so everyone can feel respected, valued and engaged.

Dr. Susan Murphy is a best-selling author, business consultant and speaker specializing in relationships, conflict, leadership, and goal-achievement. She is co-author of LifeQ: How To Make Your Life Your Most Important Business and In the Company of Women. She can be reached at [email protected].

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