Can you imagine spending the majority of your time doing what brings the most fulfillment, meaning, and joy to your life? While it seems nearly impossible to many Executives, when you learn how to delegate properly this can absolutely become your reality.
After speaking with three delegation experts—an accomplished leadership and career guru, the founder of a delegation firm for attorneys, and the owner of three successful businesses—we’ve cracked the code on how to delegate effectively so you can keep your company (and life) running smoothly. After all, says one of our experts, Lindsey Corbin, “An executive isn't generating revenue or representing his or her company if they are booking their own flights or answering all of their own phone calls.”
What is delegation?
In its simplest form delegation means taking tasks and responsibilities that you’re currently doing yourself and handing them off to someone who can do them equally as well (or better) than you. This allows you to let go of things that don’t need your attention so you can focus on what you do best.
What does delegation really mean to an Executive?
There are so many opportunities to delegate at work that it can often become overwhelming to decide where to begin. To be clear, delegating can mean handing off tasks, projects, and responsibilities to:
someone else on your internal team
an external contractor or vendor
technology (aka automation)
Many Executives get tripped up when talking about how to delegate because they know every aspect of the business and fear giving up control. It becomes difficult to take pieces of what you’ve built and trust that someone will take care of it as well as you have.
There’s an important point to remember, however, warns Lindsey Corbin, founder of delegate.legal. “There is a difference between delegating and going entirely hands-off. Delegation still requires some oversight, even if minimal. Going hands-off means you have no idea what is going on, and things can get out of control.”
Why is delegating important?
“Delegating is not only important but an essential practice in order to focus on your job and what really matters,” says Paula Madrid, an entrepreneur who runs an office rental business and psychology practice in New York City. When an Executive holds on to too many of the company’s overall responsibilities it becomes difficult to form solid teams. Strong Executives want their employees to shine in their own Zone of Genius while also learning and growing in their current role. Learning how to delegate does just that.
Delegating also allows Executives to find a better work-life balance. Their energy and performance increase because they are focused on what they do best, rather than burning out from being a Jack of All Trades. Corbin notes that “Executives have so many things that require their time and attention. They should focus on the projects that generate the most revenue or positive feedback for their companies and allow other team members to handle everything else.”
What can be delegated?
The tasks that can be delegated are endless and you may find yourself turning on your creative brain to figure out what you can hand off next. But to start, consider what can only be done by you, such as reviewing monthly analytics. Remember, the goal is to spend as much time as possible focused on your best ideas and highest priorities. Everything else is fair game.
Also, there may be scenarios where you need to be a part of the process, but being responsible for the entire project isn’t necessary. For example, Corbin suggests having someone else draft documents for you. Then, you can offer final feedback and approval. The amount of time this saves you is priceless, yet you’re still involved in the process and know what’s headed out the door.
What you can delegate at work
This is a short list to get you thinking about what you can delegate as an Executive at your company.
Tasks you do out of habit:
Email management and organization
Tasks that don’t directly influence revenue:
Document, spreadsheet, and presentation creation
Tasks that may require oversight but not your full attention:
Sourcing and recruiting efforts
Social media management
What you can delegate outside of work
Delegating doesn’t only have to happen at the workplace. Once you’ve cut down on wasted time at work there’s an opportunity to delegate everyday tasks at home, also. When you think beyond the office in regards to delegation the benefits will often outweigh the costs. For example, if you delegate your yard work to a landscaping company, consider how much time that frees up to spend quality time with your family.
Ways to delegate at home
House cleaning and chores
Cooking (options include pre-made food or a cooking service)
Errands and appointments (oil changes, making doctor’s appointments)
Transportation (take a rideshare service like Uber or Lyft rather than the subway so you can work or relax in the car)
When you’re struggling with whether or not to delegate a task be honest about your answer this: Do I really need to be the one in charge of this task or project? Why?
How do you delegate effectively?
There are two crucial things to remember when it comes to learning how to delegate: be clear about how you will communicate and have a delegation process in place.
An open line of communication will serve you well as you begin to delegate tasks. Take some time to bring your team up to speed on your plan. They might not completely understand why you want to delegate and could be too embarrassed to ask the question that’s on many minds: What does delegation mean?
As the leader of the company, it’s your responsibility to have an open conversation so they feel comfortable and included in what’s happening. Explain how delegating will benefit them as well as the company. For example, be clear about how delegation will provide new growth opportunities to the team. Share insight on how expanding their responsibilities today can turn into a bigger role in the long term.
Introducing new concepts or processes can sometimes make a team feel unsure. Ease any apprehension around delegation by offering total clarity on the following:
How do you determine who should take on certain responsibilities? “Delegate to those who are better than you at the task that needs to be done,” says Madrid. It sounds so simple, but it’s easy for Executives to get stuck on the “who”. Take it a step further and tell that person why you’re delegating to them. It will likely make their day and ease any apprehension.
Whether you’re delegating work to your team or an outside service, it’s critical to have a clear hand-off process in place. Be prepared before delegating by organizing all documents, login information, contacts, etc. in one place. Doing so will keep you from micromanaging team members and avoid unnecessary back and forth. Your focus should be on making sure the delegation process works effectively (see below for a go-to delegation framework). Then, the team can spend their time and energy completing the task in a way that works best for them.
Corbin encourages this as well, saying that having a simple process for delegation will, “drastically reduce the time it takes to integrate a new person into the role.” She continues on, mentioning that “If you delegate to an outside service provider, they may already have steps in place for how to assist with the delegation, including their own process for you to follow that makes your time commitment minimal while all of the work is getting done.” Partnering with a company that exists to help you delegate only makes the process easier.
Easy framework for delegating
In his bestselling book, The Big Leap, Gay Hendricks introduces four “zones” that we often find ourselves operating in, especially when it comes to work:
Zone of Incompetence: When we’re working on tasks that we’re not good at and others can accomplish in less time and with better quality
Zone of Competence: When you’re doing tasks that you can complete well enough, but someone else is better equipped to do them than you
Zone of Excellence: When you are really good at a task, but others can do it just as well
Zone of Genius: When you’re doing tasks that are your unique gift and not many others can do them as well as you
Hendricks says that the goal is to spend at least 70% of your time operating in your Zone of Genius, however, most people remain stuck in the other three. This means you’re not able to fully tap into that true gift that makes you unique—the thing that feels effortless, yet impactful. Oftentimes it’s the reason you started a company or executed on a particular idea. But as time went on, you found yourself spending more of your effort in the weeds and less energy doing what’s important to you.
Shanna Hocking, Principal at Hocking Leadership, explains that “Delegating is a skill that can take time to learn and it’s essential to your success as a leader, especially as your team grows. Though it may seem counterintuitive, the higher up you go in the organization, you need to become less involved in doing the day-to-day work. Delegating is a way to extend your reach and vision by coaching others to lead and implement.”
Start by delegating one simple task and repeat the process from there. Soon enough you’ll be working within your Zone of Genius and wondering why it took you so long to commit to delegating effectively.