Delegation is a vital tool for any leader. After all, there’s simply no way we can do every task that crosses our plate. But delegating well requires more than simply firing off an email or setting a task for a colleague. When you know how delegation can be used to empower others it doesn’t just free up your time – it helps you cultivate stronger, more resilient relationships and experience true support from those around you.
First, know what’s yours to delegate
One of the hallmarks of Superwoman – the disempowering archetype of our time for women – is her belief that “Everything is my responsibility”.
Tiffany Dufu is a writer and leader who’s achieved undoubtable professional success: A launch team member to Lean In, she previously served as President of The White House Project and was named in Fast Company’s League of Extraordinary Women. Her book, Drop the Ball, explores how letting go of our need to achieve perfection in every area of our lives.
In an interview with Marianne Schnall for the Huffington post, Dufu explained how hard we can find that to do – and why it matters so much:
“The biggest ball that I needed to drop was just this huge ball around unrealistic expectations and just doing it all, and ultimately that’s the ball I feel like women should drop. And it’s the most insidious one, and it’s the reason why the book is called Drop the Ball and not How to Get Other People to Pick Up the Ball.
Because in my experience, once I dropped the ball, it really did open up a whole new world of possibilities for what I could attain and what I could achieve, in large part from just engaging the people around me.”
Before you begin to delegate, then, ask yourself: Can I simply let go of this?
Can I let myself off the hook, and allow someone else to step in – perhaps by saying no, not speaking up… or simply doing nothing?
Delegating is an action that requires energy.
And there may be things on your list that, when you get realistic about your expectations, don’t even need to be delegated: they can simply be crossed off.
So, first things first: look at what’s on your list. Is there anything you can formally give your permission to let go of – can you experience what it’s like to consciously “Drop the ball?”
In Tiffany’s experience:
“I got so overwhelmed that I eventually did start dropping balls… not that I was necessarily trying to. And I discovered that the world didn’t fall apart, and I had never had that experience before because I had always been someone who cared deeply about not dropping balls and had been paranoid about not dropping them. And so, it kind of kept them up in the air.
…if there’s one thing I feel like we need more practice in, it’s just failing publicly. To know that life can still go on.”
When you do choose to delegate, do so effectively
So you’ve looked at your list, and perhaps been able to cross off a few things that really don’t need to be done by you, if at all.
Inevitably, there will still be some things to delegate.
(Some of them you might not want to – but they simply aren’t priorities, and they still need to happen. You can’t do them yourself, so it’s time to let them go.)
How can you pass them on in a way that creates the best possible chance of them being completed effectively?
Without dumping them on a hapless colleague, or undermining the person you’re asking?
Well, over time, I’ve identified 6 distinct steps to effective delegation that actually empowers those around you.
1. Get their full attention
It might sound obvious, but this is important.
It’s essential if the conversation is to be an empowering one, because it means that you’re also giving them the gift of your attention, should they have queries or concerns.
A face to face conversation is ideal; a phonecall second best. If you need to delegate in writing, say via email, make sure you’re clear about what you’re asking, and invite them to respond as appropriate.
2. Tell them what you want them to do
Make it clear what the task is.
You’re not telling them how to do it – just what the outcome is that you want.
3. Tell them why
There’s nothing more disempowering than simply being told to do something without knowing why it matters.
Even if it seems obvious, it bears repeating. You’ll never know if you have a bigger picture, or a different angle, on why this is important at this particular time. Make sure you share that, so that you’re on the same page.
This really helps foster a sense of trust and collaboration, rather than hierarchy.
Think “Here’s why we need to do this” rather than “This is why I’m telling you…”
4. Agree a time-frame
Note the word “agree” – you’re not imposing it!
Ask them when they can do it, or let them know what your deadline is. This is an opportunity to model good time management, by acknowledging that they have other priorities, and giving them space to consider where this new task fits in.
If you think the task you’re delegating needs to be higher up their list, try asking “What would you need to move to have it done by Monday?”.
Makign sure you’ve clearly shared the “Why” behind the task is a crucial piece here – as it helps contextualise timescales and make clear what’s at stake if it doesn’t happen by a certain date.
5. Ask for understanding
Especially if you’re in a position of seniority, make sure you open up communication.
Think about how you’d like someone to check in with you – maybe ask “have you got that?” or “do you need anything else?”.
In terms of the Women’s PowerTypes, the most effective energy to delegate from is that of Mother. It allows you to remain sensitive to the wellbeing of your team and support them to work at their optimum level.
(To understand more about the PowerTypes and how you can use them to become a more effective leader, click here).
Iron out any concerns and make sure they know where to get the information they need.
6. Schedule follow up
Remember, you’re delegating – not abdicating. So you need to know when you’re going to check in, and have a method for recording that: perhaps a separate section on your to-do list, or a reminder in your calendar.
How do you delegate?
Got a tip on delegating to share – or an example of when you’ve felt empowered when someone delegated to you? Let us know in the comments.
Great leaders lift others up
The leadership we’re cultivating at One of many doesn’t rely on having power over others. Instead, it allows us to empower those around us while standing in our own Soft Power – and feeling confident that we’re taking the actions we need to to have the impact we want.
If you’d like to find out more about this new leadership paradigm, Be Powerful is our 12 week course. It can help you explore a more powerful way of showing up in every area of your life – including setting boundaries, delegating, and discovering what you really want.
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