How to Delegate Authority: Tips and Benefits
By Chris Campbell | Published September 4, 2018
With the proper plan in place, it's possible to reap the more strategic benefits of delegation without sacrificing day-to-day operational performance.
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Many managers have mixed feelings about delegating authority. They know it's vitally important in a broader, abstract sense, yet the practical demands of the workplace often make delegation seem like a more onerous choice. After all, can a manager really ensure stellar results by detaching from the process? At first glance, it might seem like a circle that can't be squared.
Fortunately—with the proper plan in place—it's possible to reap the more strategic benefits of delegation without sacrificing day-to-day operational performance.
To help you accomplish this, let's take a closer look at the primary benefits of delegation, some common barriers to the practice, and a few actionable tips for delegating authority effectively.
The Benefits of Delegation
Knowing where, when and how to delegate authority is a critical skill for managers, as it creates more fluid and efficient workflows and helps employees grow their skills. Yet the benefits of delegation don't stop there.
Other key advantages of learning to delegate effectively include:
- Creation of a self-renewing talent pipeline. Delegating authority helps workers cultivate new skills, enhance their capacity for leadership, and boost their self-confidence. By granting authority and allowing employees to exercise it, managers ensure that internal replacements will be available when managers move up or move on.
- Greater trust. Trust is a two-way street—extend someone your trust in their ability to do the job, and it will likely be reciprocated. Once tasks, projects, or decision-making responsibilities have been successfully delegated, the foundation will be set for future collaborations.
- Deeper insight into employee capabilities. Delegating authority provides a fantastic window for the evaluation of employee skills and key attributes (creativity, leadership qualities, dependability, etc.).
- Promotion of a culture of innovation. Fresh ideas and approaches are the lifeblood of business, and delegating authority plays an essential role in granting workers the latitude to develop their own innovative leadership ideas or problem-solving strategies.
- More motivation. Personal development and the opportunity to assume greater responsibility are two keys to employee retention. By delegating authority, managers make their co-workers feel respected and trusted, sparking loyalty and motivation.
- Creation of a healthy organizational culture. Many businesses can benefit from avoiding over-reliance on a top-down approach to management. Delegating authority is a smart way to make everyone feel invested in the company's progress.
By delegating authority in a smart and strategic fashion, organizations can reap these rewards while cultivating an environment where employees feel trusted and respected.
Given the importance of hiring and retaining talented people, fostering such an atmosphere can deliver a significant competitive edge for organizations prioritizing delegation.
Common Barriers to Delegation
As mentioned above, it's not always a trivial task to delegate authority, even if you're convinced of the overall benefits of the practice. Managers resist delegation for a variety of reasons, but there tend to be a few that crop up consistently.
These common barriers to effective delegation include:
- Perfectionism. Some leaders who are afraid to delegate may harbor a fear that the work will suffer without their direct involvement, and that this will reflect poorly upon their own record or reputation.
- Lower expectations. Managers who fail to delegate may do so because they believe the work will be slower or less effective when in the hands of employees.
- Lack of trust. When you're in a position of accountability, it's sometimes difficult to trust others to get the job done. This is especially true when delegating authority to new people.
- Concern over losing control. It's not always easy to share the spotlight, nor is it easy to cede control of an important project or task to another person. Learning to cede control without micromanagement or subsequent interference is a core challenge for delegating managers.
- Time management issues. There's no denying that delegating often takes more time, as you need to choose and prepare the right person.
- The misapprehension about the nature of delegation. When done properly, delegation doesn't simply "dump extra work" in the laps of employees; it plays a critical role in their professional development. Workers crave this responsibility in most cases, rather than wishing to avoid it.
By recognizing these barriers or internal impediments to effective delegation, it becomes easier to overcome them. Developing delegation strategies can also play a key role in helping managers transcend these barriers.
Actionable Advice for Delegating More Effectively
You need to get over the idea of losing control. Challenge your own thinking:
- Is every task a high-risk task that only you can solve? If not, start slow and delegate smaller tasks to get comfortable with the idea.
- Are there capable, proven people on my staff who can competently perform tasks? If there are, give them a chance. If not, you either need to re-evaluate your expectations or your hiring process.
- Is this about my own resistance to or fear of mistakes? If this is about you, you have work to do on yourself.
- Do I have trust issues that are preventing me from working with a team? If so, you have work to do on yourself.
You need to recognize that work is a team sport and your teammates, while not perfect, are smart and responsible.
Additional tips you can follow to make the process as seamless as possible.
- It's important to maintain a delegation mindset. Stay vigilant for new opportunities to delegate, and match those opportunities with people who have the right mix of skill, leadership, and problem-solving capabilities.
- After finding the right opportunity and the right candidate, ensure that any necessary training or advisory activity is undertaken.
- It's also imperative to maintain open lines of communication. Always be rigorously clear as to what's expected when authority is delegated. Provide clarity as to how performance will be measured or evaluated. Any deadlines or responsibilities should be clearly articulated and understood.
- Stay in contact but don't be overbearing; the idea is to put people in a position to succeed—to lead and guide rather than do. If you must intervene, use a light touch. Give the person to which you've delegated authority the opportunity to think creatively and independently. Be open to ideas or solutions that run contrary to your normal practice.
- After delegating, make sure you monitor progress. While delegation helps workers develop new skills and leadership qualities, the buck ultimately still stops with the person delegating, so oversight is often necessary for tasks of greater significance.
- Once everything is wrapped up, review the process, and get feedback from those involved. Find out what worked and what didn't, and identify potential improvements to be implemented the next time authority is delegated.
While delegating authority isn't always easy, the process ultimately serves the best interests of managers, employees, and organizations as a whole.
By following the steps outlined above, you can begin delegating authority more effectively, improving as a leader while creating professional development opportunities for your co-workers.
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Chris Campbell is a journalist, marketer and entrepreneur whose primary focus is business and technology. He has written for, or worked with, a variety of national publications, large enterprises and industry thought leaders, including many in the leadership and management space.