When I was first promoted to managing a team, I had been the “technical” expert, a real hands-on, sleeves rolled up type.
We had so much going on that I had to learn to delegate and let go of things. The team were not as good at some of the things I could do, but at least they could do them, so I could do other things.
Over time, as they gained experience, their skills increased and some of them were actually better than I was.
That’s when I learned to delegate responsibilities, not just tasks.
If all you ever do is delegate a task, no matter how complex, you will only free up so much of your own time. Much more importantly, the people you are leading won’t feel empowered – you’ve made it clear that it is just the task you are handing over, not the responsibility.
There’s a downside to this. If you delegate a responsibility, you also have to delegate the authority.
I was once in the invidious position of holding a senior role, with responsibility for the P&L of a business unit, but I was not empowered to change the focus or control the spend of the single biggest item in the P&L. That’s an extreme, but it really was the classic “poisoned chalice.” I had the responsibility, but not the authority.
I have found that delegating responsibility – by which I mean focusing on the outcome, not the means employed to achieve the outcome – allows me to harness the abilities and talents of those around me.
A phrase I have often used when delegating something new is to ask
“What do you need to make this happen?”
That, coupled with a review process, allows me to delegate responsibilities and the necessary authority, but I haven’t abdicated. The ultimate responsibility stays with me.