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Lead Your Team Leadership

3 Elements of Delegation All Managers Should Know

image for Marvent/Shutterstock
Marvent/Shutterstock

As a manager, you have countless responsibilities that might be overwhelming at times, but that's why you have a team. You don't have to do everything on your own. Many new managers struggle with this transition, feeling that they still must perform every minor assignment on their to-do list. To be an effective leader, though, it's important to learn the art of delegation.

Whether you've just been promoted or you've been managing a team for a while, you should understand that effective delegation is good for your team's productivity as well as yours and can even help your team learn new skills while establishing a culture of trust.

Delegation is when managers use their authority to assign responsibility to others in their workplace, such as their direct reports or co-workers. Delegating tasks is important because the higher-level strategic planning you're responsible for takes time and energy. You won't have either of those if you're bogged down with busywork.

For example, imagine you are a marketing director overseeing an email campaign to a group of customers. Before the campaign can begin, its content needs to be written, graphics need to be designed, and an email list needs to be put together. Then the campaign must be added to email marketing software such as iContact or Mailchimp. When delegating tasks for this campaign, a good manager must send detailed instructions via email or delegation tool. Be sure to include your vision and goals in the instructions. In this example, the following staff are perfect for assisting with the campaign:

  • Graphic designer: Designs images to live alongside email content
  • Copywriter: Writes and edits content, including the subject line
  • Marketing specialist: Pulls the email list from a source such as Salesforce or a different customer relationship management (CRM) tool

Once each member of your team has completed their assigned task, they should send it to you for review. You then put all the pieces together and schedule the email campaign for deployment.

There are three main aspects of delegating responsibility, known as the elements of delegation:

  1. Authority: This refers to the right of a manager to direct employees to perform certain tasks within the scope of their team's purview. This means the manager has authority over the subordinate. Prior to assigning tasks, managers need to use their authority to assess the skills of their subordinates and be aware that sometimes subordinates require training. As an authority figure, you also need to act like a leader and avoid micromanaging.
  2. Responsibility: This is the obligation a subordinate has to successfully complete the duties they are assigned. A management figure is passing a certain level of trust to a subordinate to complete tasks effectively.
  3. Accountability: For successful delegation, subordinates need to be accountable for the tasks they are assigned. With or without the help of a delegation tool, subordinates should provide managers with updates on their workflow. Managers also need to be accountable for the direction they provide; if directions are not clear, managers can't expect subordinates to be successful.

To make it easier to manage workers and keep track of deadlines without micromanaging, you can use project management software for effective delegation. A few such programs are Asana, Basecamp and Trello.

When delegating, you need to be clear with your expectations and vision for the tasks at hand. Good, clear communication that includes explicit instructions goes a long way. When sending delegation emails, try using a call to action in your subject line (such as "Newsletters Proofreading Review Needed"). In the body of your email, lay out your expectations, including a deadline. Along with excellent communication and clear expectations, valuable delegation skills include providing support and following up. Always let your team know when they do a good job and thank them.

You can't always assume that your subordinates know something or can figure it out. It's your job as an authority figure to teach your employees new skills. The more your employees know, the more they can take off your plate later.

Everything you and your team members do is important to the overall function of the business. However, supply shopping, data entry, file organization, clerical work and other administrative tasks aren't what drives growth for your company. These are typically simple assignments that don't require much experience, and while you could easily complete them yourself, you'll save time by delegating them to your workers.

"Part of my job as a manager is to ensure the workload is spread evenly to deliver results on time," said Dan Westmoreland, director of inbound marketing at Deputy. "The No. 1 delegation mistake managers make is not delegating enough."

However, he added, this does not apply to more complicated, role-sensitive tasks, like hiring new talent or overseeing financial affairs. Delegation will help you save your time for those responsibilities.

"Always keep the big picture in mind when deciding which tasks to delegate to your team," said Michael Parrella, CEO of iLoveKickboxing. "Tasks that require a large portion of your time can distract you from doing the things only you can do to grow your business."

When you were at a lower level than you are now, you likely had certain tasks that you weren't motivated to do. Since you've paid your dues, you may now look to your team to take on those same assignments.

"As the visionary, it's my job to stay passionate and drive that passion to the team," Parrella said. "Doing things I hate impedes that excitement that affects both the people and bottom line of my business."

However, you don't want your employees to feel drained either. While you might pass some of these duties off to your staff to alleviate your mental and emotional strain, make sure you aren't just passing the stress to them.

"If you aren't sure who to delegate the task to, present the task to a group of your co-workers, and openly ask who might be the best to handle it," said Westmoreland. Different workers have different interests; what's demanding to one person might be a walk in the park to another.

Being a leader doesn't automatically make you the right person for a project. Your staff members have their own talents, some of which can fill in your gaps, so you must be humble enough to see and admit that someone else might be a better fit for a task than you are.

"Your job as a manager is to develop people," said Westmoreland. "Delegation is the means by which you bring out the very best in the people that you have. Each employee has their own unique skill set, personality and strengths. Making good use of their unique working personalities will result in more overall efficiency, and people excel at work they enjoy doing."

Delegation can be hard for managers and business owners, but it's essential for productivity. As a leader, you can't possibly do everything on your own. Instead, learn to lean on your team and trust them to get the job done. As a result, you'll see that your company can accomplish a lot more without bogging you down.

Additional reporting by Sammi Caramela and Nicole Fallon. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

Marisa Sanfilippo

Marisa Sanfilippo is an award-winning marketing professional who has more than six years experience developing and executing marketing campaigns for small and medium sized businesses with a focus on digital marketing. After graduating Stockton University with a B.A. in Communications and minor in writing, Marisa worked as a freelance journalist for numerous publications, ultimately earning a position as an e-marketing specialist for a credit union. While in that position, she earned HubSpot's Inbound Marketing Certification and helped build the organization’s digital marketing strategy from the ground up. Her efforts helped lead the credit union to success on and offline including: a 200%+ organic increase in Facebook followers, a sales generating blog, and much more. Later on, she worked on a social media campaign that gained recognition by The Huffington Post.