Sometimes we avoid certain conversations not because we don't want or need to have them, but because we don't know how to. As a new manager, a conversation about development is one you need to be having with your direct reports. The people you lead are now looking at you to help them get to their next step. If you’re a first-time manager, it’s time to develop your delegation muscle. When carried out effectively, delegation allows leaders and their teams to expand professionally and develop a greater sense of accountability. It also allows you to free up some of your time and energy so that you can focus on the areas where you’re needed most.
A common misunderstanding among leaders is that delegating is about giving away tasks you don't want to do and increasing everyone else’s workload. We often refer to this as “dele-dumping.” Instead, the delegation conversation is really a development conversation. It helps you more clearly communicate what is expected, who owns what, and where you want to see members of your team grow. When leaders delegate effectively, they are looking at what responsibilities are no longer the best use of their time and what skill gaps on their team can be closed.
If you have yet to warm up to the idea of delegation, consider the business results. A study by Gallup revealed that business with leaders “high in delegator talent” grew 112% higher than those without. In other words, if you want to be successful in your new role, learning how to effectively delegate is going to be an essential part of long-term success for both yourself and your team.
Below are three best practices to support you in having those delegation conversations.
#1: Manage Your To-Do List
The first step for you as a new manager is to look at your to-do list. Chances are there are still some things you're holding onto because either you love doing it, no one else knows how to do it, or you don't trust anyone to do it correctly. No matter what, if this task or responsibility is not central to achieving your goals or supporting your team, it is no longer the best use of your time. No matter how much you love it or how good you are at doing it.
To get started, make a list of all of your responsibilities and begin to identify who you can delegate some of them to. Also look at the amount of time you save by letting someone else take ownership. And now, ask yourself: What can you do with that time?
#2: Create a Common Language
The second step is to have the conversation with your direct reports, share that you want to delegate some new responsibilities, and see if they have an interest in growing in these areas. Ask questions to get a better sense of how they want to develop in their role and if some of your current responsibilities could be delegated to support their development.
In the FIERCE DELEGATION PROGRAM we use the analogy of a tree to represent the four levels you can delegate a project: leaf, branch, trunk, and root. At the leaf level, there is a high level of autonomy to make a decision, and the level of autonomy decreases with each level. A root level task may be one where your direct reports will need your input before making a decision, or they may be tasks that you’ve decided not to delegate. These levels help give a common language to teams so that everyone has a mutual understanding of the decision-making process on any given project. Having a defined language around delegation is important because it prevents misunderstandings about where you need to be kept in the loop on projects and where they can act autonomously.
#3: Help Your Team Partner Up
As a new leader, it can be tempting to want to be the go-to person for everything, and the reality is that it’s not sustainable. Have your team create accountability partners to keep each other on-track with things like time-management and deadlines. Have an accountability conversation with the entire team so that everyone is clear on expectations and who owns what. The reality is that when you delegate new responsibilities, those you lead will need to look at how they manage their schedules to assure they’re making the best use of their time. Encourage them to create check-ins with one another and to share their progress—you might even free up more time for yourself with this practice.
Are you a new people leader looking for resources? Check out our whitepapers, eBooks, and previously recorded webinars HERE to learn more about how you can develop the conversation skills you and your team needs to succeed.
This blog was originally published on March 14, 2014 on the Fierce blog; last updated October 2018.