The Dos and Don’ts of Delegating

Handing tasks over to others lets you accomplish more by doing less

When Juliet Okafor started her sales and marketing business in January 2009, she handled all the responsibilities of entrepreneurship herself, from customer service to marketing to chasing down invoice payments. “If I stayed up 24 hours, I could complete most of it,” confides the 30-year-old. By May of that same year, she had reached a breaking point. When a business partner asked Okafor to write a press release for a fashion show she was planning, “I broke down and just couldn’t do any more,” she says. “I finally realized I needed help.”

Many people believe they accomplish more by doing more, but that’s not always the case, says Loretta Love Huff, a business coach and consultant in Phoenix. When you do too many tasks you spread yourself too thin, and all your work can suffer in the process. By assigning tasks to others, you free yourself up to spend more time doing what will move you toward your goals. Love Huff adds, “You want to leverage your skills and gifts for their most productive use.”

Though common sense suggests we’d all appreciate a helping hand, many people struggle with delegating because they equate handing over tasks to others with admitting that they can’t handle the job, experts say. Others fear that those they delegate to will either outshine them or perform poorly. “It’s your ego that tells you you’re the only one who can do this,” says Cherry A. Collier, Ph.D., a life and executive coach in Atlanta.

So, while one part of effective delegation involves getting over yourself, another requires establishing a formula to work from so you can develop the willingness to delegate and the confidence to trust the results.

When Okafor brought on an assistant and began outsourcing tasks to independent contractors, expenses naturally went up at her Rockville, Maryland-based company, Jules Management & Consulting. But Okafor slowly realized it was now easier for her to make up the difference. “The month after I started delegating, I realized I’d put in less time but still taken on more clients,” she says. By letting others take on work associated with developing e-mail marketing campaigns and event planning, Okafor now had time to pursue new clients. And those she delegated to also developed an emotional stake in the company’s success.

Looking back, Okafor acknowledges that her resistance to delegating hindered both her growth and the company’s. She says she now understands how “the job of a leader is to share the vision.”

If you’re having a tough time letting go of some of your responsibilities, consider the following:

  • Prioritize your focus. You will be better suited for some tasks, like face-to-face interaction with your best clients or cold calling prospective ones. “Spend time doing things that make or save money,” suggests Love Huff. Items further down on your to-do list can be delegated, especially those you continually put off.
  • Assign appropriately. Of course, some tasks are more fun than others. What can help promote positive performance as well as alleviate resistance and resentment is delegating a task to someone who shows an interest in taking it on. If possible, find out who wants to be involved. In a work situation, assessments can identify employees who have the appropriate skills. And, thanks to technology, you’re not limited to the people in your geographical circle, says Collier. Virtual assistants or remote independent contractors can also lend a hand.
  • Take time for training. Many people don’t delegate because they think they can do a task more quickly themselves. “Instead, invest the time in training someone else to do certain tasks—so they become part of their skill set,” says Love Huff. The last thing you want to do is hand over an important assignment to someone who doesn’t have adequate preparation or instruction. Training may seem tedious, especially if you’re delegating to lighten your load. But establishing a firm foundation now will help to streamline the process later. Write down all the crucial steps, as well as any legal or compliance issues, and give the person room to add his or her own stamp of individuality to the process.

Lose Control
Still holding on tightly to tasks? Implement these four strategies to loosen your grip:

  1. Evaluate your workload. Do a cost-benefit analysis. Write a list of the worst things that can happen if you delegate, as well as the potential benefits, suggests Love Huff. Compare the worst-case scenarios with what you can potentially achieve, and determine how you would respond if the worst-case scenario occurred. Remember to include the intangibles you’d gain, such as a lower stress level, by eliminating some of your responsibilities. For some, having too much to do can mentally paralyze them from doing anything.
  2. Start small. Don’t start off giving all your tasks away. “If you’re nervous, start with something small,” Love Huff advises. When you see the person is able to handle the task, it will give you the confidence to let go of bigger things. Also, it’s OK to hold on to tasks you enjoy doing or that you believe are integral to your role.
  3. Think win-win. You’re not the only one who benefits when you delegate; others get the opportunity to learn new skills. “The more you let go, the more you help to build up other people,” says Collier. If you’re worried that the person will do a better job than you did, consider their success a reflection of your leadership and training, not to mention that you’ll probably do your remaining tasks better now that you have more time.
  4. Realize that delegating is good. It’s not a negative reflection of you. Collier says if you have the opportunity to delegate, you improve your own communication and leadership skills. She adds, “In most cases when you see a successful person, that person is not successful without having delegated.”

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