“Leadership,” says Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, “is about making others better as a result of your presence and making sure that impact lasts in your absence.”
Learning to delegate effectively is one of the best ways to accomplish Sandberg’s leadership objective. Delegation is not only a process of assigning tasks and projects to others; it is also an ideal tool for developing individuals as well as expanding the capacity and productivity of the organization.
Effective delegation changes our leadership perspective from managing tasks and processes to coaching employees to succeed in their roles. It engages them as responsible partners in tasks, projects and objectives rather than simply as pieces of human machinery in the business. Effective delegation opens communication flow, supporting creativity and problem solving throughout the organization.
An effectively delegated assignment creates a “contract” between the leader and the individual or team with clear and explicit agreement on the following terms:
- What is to be achieved with specific and measurable results.
- How the individual or team is responsible and accountable for producing the required outcomes.
- The deadline.
- An agreement among parties about how much decision-making authority has been delegated. This can range from “check before acting” to “full authority to act”.
- Performance and feedback check-ins and reporting protocols.
- The definition of each person’s role, including the delegator’s.
- How to access additional guidance and/or resources that may be needed.
- What should the individual or team stop doing or delegate to others in order to free up the time to take on the new priority?
In the beginning, the delegation contract will feel awkward and time consuming. The rush and pressure of deadlines will tempt leaders to take shortcuts through some of these steps or to make assumptions that the instructions are implied and understood. This is a false perception that leads to failure and when that happens it is human nature to blame the one who received the assignment rather than to examine the quality of the initial instructions. Failures in delegation are usually the result of lack of understanding about one or more of the contact terms.
Investing the time to delegate effectively increases personal and organizational effectiveness and productivity. It improves communications, builds skills and competency, and strengthens employee engagement and commitment. Effective delegation makes others better and ensures that even when you are absent your leadership impact is still present.