Tips to help you delegate well and empower your team

By Sam Warner, Toastmasters International
Leadership includes having the confidence to delegate and empower your team in the process.

In my experience, companies often promote staff into leadership roles and then develop them. It would be so much better to equip them with the tools to do the job first and then promote them. New leaders often believe they must prove themselves, so they want to get a lot achieved in their first year. However, they risk overwhelm if they attempt to do everything themselves.

Effective delegation provides opportunities for people to feel empowered, supported and encouraged. It also gives the leader a chance to dial-down stress by spreading out the workload amongst the team.

For most of us, delegation is something we need to keep working at so here are nine tips to help.

1. Clear vision and mission. Be really clear about your vision and mission and share it with your team. If they understand the direction the team is going in, and the objectives that need to be achieved they will start to think about how they can contribute.

2. Pace yourself. If you are new to the role of leader or you have a new team – don’t rush in like a whirlwind. Rather than making changes in the first three months use this time to get to know the team, understand their ways of working, idiosyncrasies and preferred styles of communication. You’ll be able to appreciate their world as it stands – before you add to it. Really get to grips with their deliverables, and understand their touchpoints with other teams, their concerns and challenges. This approach will pay off massively in the long run.

3. Ask for help. If employees feel respected they will offer to help you to achieve your objectives and goals. You have to be clear about what’s in it for them. They need to know you are the kind of leader who rewards effort and is there to help them succeed. A good saying is that “your success is only achieved through theirs”. You have to mean it and let them know this is how you operate. To be an effective leader who delegates easily you need to be open. If they can see your vulnerable side, where you are not perfect, where you don’t have all the answers, they will know that you value consulting with them and leveraging their knowledge and experience when solving problems.

4. Give helpful feedback. If you can’t give great feedback that is useful and useable then it will become very challenging for you to delegate a second time. You need to give them specific examples of where things went well and why that was great or didn’t go so well, help them articulate how they might mitigate that in the future so that the issues melt away. Reward them, in a meaningful way, for their efforts. Deliver valuation and feedback that supports their career goals and identifies training and development opportunities.

5. Upskill the team. Is there a task that needs to be done that uses a very specific skill set – even if you have someone with the skills already – is this a chance to upskill a more junior member of the team? By ensuring that you have no silos (individuals with special skill sets that are potential single-point-of-failures if absent), delegating tasks across the team will upskill them and ensure that no-one, when they return from holiday or other absence, is faced with a pile of work – because it’s been absorbed by the team. When people are in this mindset – they are willing to take on other initiatives to help. It reduces stress and absenteeism as an added bonus!

6. Be open to ideas. You can build a culture of problem solving by being genuinely approachable and easy to work with. If you don’t want people to bring you problems to solve – ask your team to bring you solutions and ideas instead. They will feel empowered to try to figure out how to fix things before approaching you for approval to go ahead; thereby discouraging whinging and moaning about problems which they then expect you to solve.

If a team member comes up with a viable idea let them lead on it. You can provide support as a consultant (so they don’t feel vulnerable). This raises their profile, makes them feel respected and gives them a specific deliverable which so many jobs rely on to prove that the individual is delivering work over and above the standard job description. This is important in competitive corporate climates.

7. People will be unconsciously incompetent. For this reason, it’s really important to nourish them when completing new tasks. Without micromanaging, support them, advise them and check in with them at agreed times. There has to be a level of trust and smothering someone daily by asking them if they have completed a task yet serves no-one. Set an agreed deadline and adjust it (with mutual agreement) along the way if necessary.

8. Become more self-aware. Understanding your impact on others will greatly enhance your charisma, your ability to delegate effectively and your listening skills. Seek to understand first, then question. Listening is the most useful skill you can cultivate. It validates the person speaking and makes them feel heard. It allows you to be a safe sounding board for all sorts of things in the team. It isn’t a one-way street so ask for feedback from your team. Respond to that feedback if you can so they know you are paying attention and adapting. Let the team see how you interact with senior members of staff so you can show by example how you would like to be treated. Most leaders are followers too.

9. Choose whom to delegate to. Getting to know your team will help you to build mutual rapport, trust and respect. These will help you decide whom to delegate to. you’ll know if they’re able to cope, or if it’s too much of a stretch. There’s no point in overloading someone with too much work or give them a lot of new things – you’ll just watch them fall. It’s important to get to know your employees’ limitations so that you can push them a little but not drown them. Choose wisely.

Much of your delegating will depend on trust and your powers of persuasion, so keep working on your influencing skills. Notice when someone does something well and help them to see other opportunities for continuing to develop by undertaking a new task.

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