How to become an effective delegator

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Do you delegate tasks without due consideration, only to be disappointed by the results? If so, perhaps it's time to stop and rethink the way you respond.

I get to hear the frustrations of many leaders in my line of work, and there’s a common theme in what they complain about:

  • Why do I get so many emails?
  • Why do I get asked so many simple and obvious questions?
  • Why can’t people just think for themselves?
  • Why can’t people be more proactive?
  • Why can’t people just do what I asked of them, to the standard I need?

This may sound a little familiar to you. But what if we leaders were partly to blame? What if we were fully to blame?

If you have delegated a task that wasn’t done as you intended, then you should go and apologise to the person you delegated it to.

I was fortunate to hear Ben Zander, Head of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, speak last December and one thing he said really struck a chord with me (no pun intended).

“If you have delegated a task that wasn’t done as you intended, then you should go and apologise to the person you delegated it to.”

Boom! That’s a pretty hard-hitting statement. And at the same time, it would be quite easy to dismiss it and simply move on. But let’s deconstruct it.

  • How much time do we actually give to delegating the small, everyday tasks?
  • Do we actually stop to think about what needs to be done and what good looks like?
  • Do we consider who is the best person to do it and how it impacts on the other things they are working on?
  • Do we pause and actually consider if this thing even needs to be done at all?

Or, do we just play corporate whack attack? This is the business equivalent of the fairground game where a series of plastic moles pop their heads out of holes and you have to smack them down as fast as you can with a huge foam mallet.

Too quick to delegate tasks

As fast as tasks arrive on our desk or into our mailbox, we’re batting them off to someone in our team as fast as we possibly can.

A task rapidly and poorly delegated via email usually triggers five or more emails coming back at us with questions. This is our fault. Say sorry.

A task not done to the standard we required because we didn’t make it clear what good looks like results in wasting the time of the person we delegated it to. Again, our fault. Say sorry.

A task done incorrectly with negative consequences for others because the person we asked to do it didn’t have the skills or experience. This is also our fault. We delegated to the wrong person, so say sorry.

You see, if we’re brutally honest with ourselves, we are often to blame when things aren’t done as we wanted.

Whack attack

What if we paused for five minutes and let the moles keep on popping their heads out of the holes? Well once our time is up and our money has run out, all the moles simply pop their heads back down.

If we just slowed down and paused instead of instantly delegating tasks by email, we’d get a lot fewer emails back and not waste one of the most valuable assets we all have - time.

It’s not how the game is designed to be played, but the outcome would be the same and we’d be a lot less sweaty. Perhaps there’s a lesson here.

If we just slowed down and paused instead of instantly delegating tasks by email, we’d get a lot fewer emails back and not waste one of the most valuable assets we all have - time.

Before delegating anything by email, ask these three questions and edit the message accordingly.

  1. Is email the best way to communicate this message?
  2. Would someone new to our business understand this?
  3. Where is there ambiguity in what I have written? (Because there always will be.)

About Ben Morton

Ben Morton

Ben is a best selling author, accomplished keynote speaker and sought after leadership mentor who has worked with senior leadership teams in the U.K, US and Australia.

Ben’s work as a leadership mentor is based upon three fundamental beliefs:

  • Leadership is less about the tools and models and more about understanding what it really means to be a leader.
  • The best leaders put the interests of their people and organisations ahead of their own.
  • Leadership is both a great privilege and a great responsibility.

As a graduate of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst he completed two tours of duty in Iraq as a Captain in the British Army. He then moved into business as Global Head of HR, World Challenge, later part of Tui Travel and followed this with a period in the Tesco Leadership Academy.

Alongside his military and corporate career Ben has also led expeditions around the world to places as diverse as the Himalaya’s, Malaysia and Mongolian Stepppe country.

He now works exclusively with senior and executive teams to help them be the most effective version of themselves as individual leaders whilst also becoming a genuine, high performing team.

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