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Three Hacks for Becoming an All-Star Delegator

By Martin Lanik

Do you find it difficult to trust others to perform as well as you do? Do you end up checking every deliverable your team produces? Do you assign projects to people who struggle to handle the work? These are all signs that you are not delegating well.

By not delegating well, you are not only making your own job more difficult, but you’re also negatively affecting your employees. On one extreme, you may be hoarding all the projects for yourself and creating a bottleneck because everyone else has to wait for your input. On the other extreme, you may be too eager to move projects off your plate and end up overwhelming employees who don’t have the skills to succeed with the work you give them.

Delegating well means assigning projects that have a clear beginning and end, and fit with the skills and interests of the person to whom you are delegating. In our extensive research and testing of nearly 800 executives for my book THE LEADER HABIT, my team and I discovered that there are three behaviors that effective leaders practice when they delegate:

1. They think about the skill level of the person to whom the project is being delegated to determine if he or she has the ability to successfully complete the project.

2. They consider the person’s interest to ensure that he or she will enjoy working on the project.

3. They identify what needs to be accomplished but let the person figure out how to accomplish it.

Once you understand that these behaviors are the key to delegating well, you will need to internalize them for yourself, turning them into habits. Based on our finding that it takes 66 days to turn a behavior into a habit, we have created three simple exercises that will help you improve your ability to delegate. They are:

Exercise #1: Match projects to skills.

If the person to whom you are delegating isn’t skilled enough to successfully complete the project, her or she will get overwhelmed and fail. If the person is too skilled, he or she will get bored and become disengaged. Effective delegation is about striking the right balance between giving someone too much of a challenge and not enough. You can get in the habit of assigning projects to people with the right skills by practicing this exercise: After deciding to assign a project to a particular person, write down the two most important skills to get the job done and estimate the person’s current skill level in those areas on a 1-5 scale. For example, it takes planning and communication skills to organize a marketing event and the person might be a 3 on planning and 4 on communication.

Exercise #2: Match projects to interests.

If the person to whom you are delegating isn’t interested in the project, he or she won’t be motivated to complete it. To get in the habit of assigning projects that people want to do, practice this exercise: After describing a project you wish to delegate, gauge the person’s level of interest by asking, “Does this sound like something you’d be interested in?” Write down the response. If the person you targeted is not interested, find someone else who might be a better fit.

Exercise #3: Specify “what,” not “how.”

This behavior is the opposite of micromanagement. Practice this exercise to get in the habit of letting others decide how they will do their work: After deciding to delegate a project to a particular person, assign it by saying, “I’d like you to figure out how to ... How do you think you’ll do that?” Write down the answer. For example, you could say “I’d like you to figure how to collect customer feedback. How do you think you’ll do that?” Make sure to only specify the end goal—the deliverable.

By making these behaviors part of your daily routine, you will be on your way to becoming a star delegator. And when you delegate well, you will enable your team to achieve its goals more quickly, produce better results, and accomplish much more than you ever could on your own, no matter how excellent and efficient you might be.

Martin Lanik, Ph.D.,
author of THE LEADER HABIT, is the CEO of Pinsight®, a global leadership development software-as-service company known for its disruptive technology. His leadership programs have been implemented by more than 100 companies – including AIG and CenturyLink – and have received awards from Chief Learning Officer and Brandon Hall. Lanik holds a Ph.D. in industrial/organizational psychology from Colorado State University. You can learn more at:

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