When new managers step into their role, there is so much to do, so much to make happen, and so much to learn. On top of all this, they now have people depending on them for their development and growth!
How are these first-time managers going to make all this happen? How are they to remain focused on their own priorities, responsibilities, and to-do’s while simultaneously building the capacity of their team?
Perhaps not the sexiest of solves, but by far, the one that will merit them (and those who work with/for them) the best results.
Consider the data: a recent study by Gallup revealed that businesses with leaders who were “high in delegator talent” grew 112 percent faster than those without. If you want to be successful as a manager, learning how to effectively delegate is going to be an essential part of long-term success for you and your team.
John C. Maxwell, prolific leadership author, says, “If you want to do a few small things right, do them yourself. If you want to do great things and make a big impact, learn to delegate.”
He’s absolutely right.
But, here’s where it gets a bit messy: few leaders, let alone new ones, are clear on what delegation actually means, what it looks like, and how to make it happen.
A common misunderstanding among leaders — both new and those who have been managing for decades — is that delegation is about giving away the tasks we don't want to do.
At Fierce, we call this dele-dumping.
Sure, it’s articulated far differently depending on your place of work. But, the most common one we hear is, “This will be a great development opportunity for you!”
Here’s the thing though… people are not deceived. Direct reports are smart! They are aware that their manager is offloading tasks that are definitely not their favorites.
So yes, the manager or leader has technically “delegated,” but they’ve accomplished little-to-nothing related to improving engagement, bettering relationships, and building emotional capital — which is one of the most important aspects of their job.
So, let’s clear up this misunderstanding by really understanding what delegation is all about: development, development, development.
Below are three best practices to help train new managers and leaders on how to have successful delegation conversations:
1. Manage to-do lists.
Anthea Turner, British media personality, said, “The first rule of management is delegation. Don’t try and do everything yourself because you can’t.”
But, it’s far easier said than done — especially for new managers. These new leaders are deeply committed to proving their worth, to making sure that their hire or promotion meets and exceeds all expectations.
One of the predominant ways this shows up, to their detriment, is that they are unwilling to let things go — to delegate — to loosen the reins. The risk just feels too great!
As their learning leader, help them out! Sit down with a new manager or leader and ask them to pull out their to-do list. Chances are high they’ve got some things on there that they admittedly love doing, and other things that they’ve determined no one else knows how to do (at least as well as they do).
The next step, no matter how hard this might be, is asking them whether or not this particular item is central to achieving their goals and supporting their team. If their answer is “no,” then it’s no longer the best use of their time.
Yep — no matter how much they love it or how good they are at it.
Now, look at their to-do list with them again. To whom can they delegate some of these things?
If they need a bit more incentive to give up a task they love or believe no one else can do better than themselves, help them do the math.
How much time will they free up if they let someone else take ownership of this particular responsibility? What else can they do with that time? And what would the benefits be if they could devote energy to other priorities?
Remind them of this: Imagine how much more productive (and fulfilled) you will be when you can focus that much time on things that are the best use of you AND meet your goals!
Once you’ve done the above exercise, encourage new managers to schedule intentional conversations with their direct reports. Invite them to set aside time to let their people know that they want to delegate some new responsibilities.
New managers can then ask: “Are you interested in growing in this area?” The goal is to be curious, to ask even more questions, to get a sense of how the direct report want to develop in their role.
When new leaders are reminded (and learn) to really ask and really listen, they’ll begin to see and understand which of their current responsibilities could be better served by delegating them for another’s development. A gift to them — and to others!
2. Create a common language.
When we teach delegation in the Fierce classroom, we use the analogy of a tree to represent four levels of delegation and decision-making authority: leaf, branch, trunk, and root.
At leaf level, there is full autonomy to make decisions and act on them. That autonomy decreases with each level — but not in a pejorative way. Instead, at root level, for example, the manager delegates a responsibility that still needs her/his input and final decision-making expertise.
At trunk, the direct report makes the decision and the implementation plan but checks in with their manager before taking any next steps. And at branch, the direct report makes the decision, implements the plan, and only keeps the manager in the loop.
These levels provide a common language so that there is a mutual understanding of the decision-making process on any given project or responsibility.
Even more, it mitigates what new leaders too often default to as an excuse for not delegating: the delegatee is not quite ready yet.
What if, instead of not delegating at all, a direct report was given the ability to start delegating to others at trunk-level. This would provide the person the autonomy to do the work in a bound amount of time and with the assurance of the manager’s ongoing expertise until they are ready for more.
Above and beyond mitigating risk, shared language maximizes reward. When people are delegated to effectively — and at levels that are unique to them as individuals — they feel seen and heard, engagement and productivity increase, retention goes up, relationships thrive, and the new manager grows and develops in powerful and relevant ways alongside their direct reports.
If you wandered through our office space at Fierce HQ, you’d overhear conversations that take full advantage of this shared language: “Hey, Ronna! Can you take this on at leaf-level?” Or, “Mike, given that this is within your area of passion, I’d love for you to facilitate this project at branch-level.” Or, “Stacey, I know this has been given to me at trunk-level and I really feel like I’m ready to have it at branch. Can we talk about that together?”
Because we understand each other and the level of decision-making authority/autonomy being given, we are able to work together in better and more productive ways.
We have successful, productive conversations because we have a vocabulary that everyone knows and speaks. Even more, it provides new leaders with a framework that teaches them how to delegate and develop their people. Truly, it makes all the difference!
3. Help teams partner up.
As a new leader, it can be tempting to want to be the go-to person for everything. It’s a lofty ideal, but completely unsustainable.
One more relevant quote? “As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.” Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft.
Let’s take his thinking one step further and develop those new leaders even more.
Help new managers understand ways in which their team members can empower each other! Have them create accountability partnerships, triads, or groups that are designed to keep each other on-track with time-management and deadlines.
They can help their people create check-ins with one another and share their progress. At the end of the day, everyone is encouraged, everyone develops, everyone grows. Including that new manager!
Now, let’s return to where we started. Is delegation the sexiest management technique ever? Nope. But it IS one that goes far deeper than often understood or practiced. We don’t want our new leaders to be deceived by its seeming-simplicity.
Delegation requires intentionality, skill, and persistence. By teaching new managers to use these three best practices, it will free up their time, maximizes their results, and develops their people. That’s being a Fierce leader, to be sure!