Tips for delegating (and producing) more

Regardless of location, role, or industry; most leaders complain about a lack of delegation. John M McKee tells you how to change this and become more effective at the same time.

Ever noticed that your leaders are not great at delegating? One of the most common criticisms that I hear from clients is that their boss can't delegate effectively. This is a universal complaint, regardless of industry. And I hear it from people at all levels.

That means that you probably think it about your boss -- while other people are complaining about you.

The leaders who are best at delegation accomplish more. That's often because they're not focused on doing work that is supposed to be done by others. Here's one of my favorite definitions of delegation.

Most leaders, when discussing their level of involvement with people or tasks that are supposed to be managed by others, justify their behavior by saying something like:

"I don't want to have to get involved there, but if I don't then it won't get done."

On the other hand, many subordinates will complain at the same time that they can't get their tasks done because the boss is always stepping in front of them:

"(S)he should focus on her/his task and let me do my job," is what I often hear when they're reviewing their boss.

How can you tell if you've fallen into a habit that is counterproductive and preventing you from achieving the bigger goals you'd prefer to focus on? Here's what I tell my clients:

1. Meet with your direct reports as a group with a one-topic agenda. Tell them beforehand that the topic is effective delegation. (Note that I don't suggest telling them if it's their issue or your issue. Let them come to the meeting having noodled on it from whatever perspective they think is most critical.)

2. Tell them to come prepared to discuss what it means and what's working well and what can be improved. (Again leaving them to decide what that means to them individually.)

3. Keep the meeting as brief as possible. This is not the time to pontificate or create a "learning opportunity" with your team. Just tell them that you believe more stuff can be done, and will be done better, if your organization can become more effective at delegation. Ask for their input, perhaps allow for some anecdotes about the issue.

4. Let them know that this is a big deal with you and that if real change is achieved you believe that it's a win for everyone (each individual on the team) and the organization overall.

5. Schedule meetings with each person individually. (It's a good idea to create the schedule in real time or have it already done and just hand it out. Don't leave the meeting with a comment that you're going to create a schedule and issue it later.)

At the subsequent one-on-one meetings, the two principal discussions are, "Am I involved too deeply in some of your stuff?" and "What can I help you achieve with more time together?"

This meeting should allow for a fair airing of issues and result in a new commitment from both parties. At the beginning, tell your subordinate what the goals of the meeting are. Note that at the end of it, you're going to ask him/her to tell you what the outcomes are and what's going to change. Make sure that happens.

If you do all this, based on my experience, you will soon see your own behavior shift accordingly. Help others to do the same thing while recognizing that it may be hard for some of them to move as quickly as you do.

Then watch productivity and satisfaction levels move in the right direction.

Here's to your future!