The Most Important Rules of Delegation

I found recently an article by Richard Lannon entitled 12 Rules of Delegation. While the article is fine and it really gives some insights on how to delegate I think it fails to emphasize the most critical issues of delegating responsibility to the others.

I started thinking and looking for some more blog posts on delegation and I came to some conclusions which I would like to share here with you.

Delegation is a two-way street, says Richard Lannon. Yes, this is an important thing that we shouldn’t forget. And when we assign a task to someone and we hold them responsible for it we have to have in mind our reasons to delegate and their reasons to accept it.

What are the issues from our perspective? There are two major questions we must ask ourselves: Why to delegate? and What to delegate?

The most common reason we refrain from delegating is our streak of perfectionism – we think we can do it better or faster than the others or we just don’t trust them. Krishna Kumar has a great post on the reasons of our distrust towards our team and how can we overwhelm them. Penelope Trunk says that our ability to do things perfectly isn’t as highly valued as we think it is. In fact, perfectionism isn’t valuable in 80 percent of the work we do and it is so unhealthy that it’s a risk factor for depression. We have to learn to let go. We can’t control everything so we must trust the people in our team.

Another common mistake is to outsource the most unpleasant and dirty work to the others. Penelope Trunk says that if you don’t do any of the crap work, your team will think you do nothing and you won’t be accepted as a part of the team. You must keep for youself only those tasks that are your specialty and to delegate all the other tasks to the people who can do them best.

On the other hand, you should put yourself in your team members’ shoes. They always ask themselves “What’s in it for me?”. Penelope says:

“Important work” means that it helps someone meet their own goals. So you should delegate to people not based on what is important to you, but what is important to them.

And more:

Your job is to help make people stars. Management is essentially an act of constant giving and constant patience. It entails giving people a little attention all the time instead of giving them lots of attention only when they mess up. In fact, if you’re managing people effectively they don’t mess up, because you play to their strengths and teach them how to move around their weaknesses.

People want to grow. and the most effective way of learning is by doing things. When you delegate your team members tasks, when you hold them responsible for those tasks fulfillment, they will learn a lot even if they make some mistakes.

The number-one factor in job happiness for young people is training. If they think they’re learning a lot on the job, they’ll like the job. You need to constantly coach these employees and teach them new skills and ideas. If you don’t, you won’t be able to lead them.

Perfectly said. Now that’s what is most important in delegation.

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  • I’d say that even more important fear standing behind aversion to delegate tasks is lack of trust. There aren’t many perfectionists around, yet we still learn hard to delegate when we get our first management-like job.

    I fully agree with leaving some crappy task for yourself. Possibly significant amount of them.

    Generally delegation should be based on two factors. First, you should maximize use of people strengths (you have to know your team as prerequisite). Second, you should give people some chances to shine. Their successes are yours.

  • Mike Ramm says:

    Yes, Pawel, I completely agree with you.

  • Craig Brown says:

    Excellent post. A question for you; How do you manage the delegating critical of issues to people who have the motivation, but not the track record?

  • Mike Ramm says:

    Hi Craig,
    Thanks for your comment!

    It depends how critical the issues are. For me it’s a matter of time. If I have the time I would delegate to non-experienced people while coaching and mentoring them and checking the status of the task more frequently. However, I wouldn’t fall into micromanagement.

    If I don’t have enough time I would delegate to people with proven record. Otherwise we wouldnt have the chance to correct our actions if that person has made a mistake.

  • Thank you for picking up my article on delegation and critiquing it. Going deeping into ones work is important. Glad you were able to have the time to use something of mine to help build the skills of others.

  • Mike Ramm says:

    Thank you Richard!

    I believe that’s what blogging is about – to bring up a discussion and help everyone finding the truth for themselves. Your article was really helpful for me to clarify my own thoughts on delegation.

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  • […] your talents requires some delegation.  This can be a tricky game.  As a manager, if you “don’t do any of the crap work, your team will think you do nothing”, but if you don’t delegate anything then you are only hurting you and your […]

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