How to Delegate Like a Pro

How to Delegate Like a Pro March 26, 2013

It’s hard for me to delegate because it’s hard for me to let go.

As a parent, it’s easier for me to just do something than to give my kids a shot at it. As a leader, it’s more comfortable for me to hold on to a task I know I can do well, than to delegate it to someone else.

Come to think of it, learning to delegate effectively is a walk of faith. [ See my post The Secret to Living by Faith ] So I guess it’s appropriate that we talk about it here at FaithWalkers.

Lessons from Jethro

I stumbled across the first significant account of advice in the Bible on how to delegate in Exodus 18 this morning. Michael Hyatt covered this topic not long ago, using this very story of Moses and his father-in-law Jethro as an example. I highly recommend reading his post and listening to his podcast when you’re done here.

The Biblical account tells us that Moses had just led the Israelites — perhaps as many as 2 million of them — out of Egypt in a stunning display of God’s faithfulness and power. He then tried to act as a judge for all the conflicts that arose between them. Not good. When his father-in-law Jethro showed up, he promptly pulled Moses aside and told him he needed to do one thing: delegate. (I’m thinking he didn’t want all the grandkids moving back in with him after their dad burned out. But I digress.)

Fortunately, Moses listened to his father-in-law’s advice before he burned out. He needed to spend as much time as possible in his strengths zone — his sweet spot, if you will. His leadership was needed as a visionary and pastoral guide, not as an adjudicator in small claims court.

Follow the 80/20 Rule

When it comes to learning how to delegate in life and leadership, I have found John Maxwell’s application of the 80/20 principle to be helpful. If you can find someone to do something 80% as effectively as you can, let them do it. Your goal should be to only do what only you can do.

Now, we will never fully arrive at this point. And the standard will be constantly changing because life is constantly changing. But if we make it our aim to off-load anything that someone else can do at least 80% as well as us, we’ll be headed in the right direction.

But let’s face it, letting go to delegate can test our faith. It’s an act of trust in others — and we’ve all been burned by others before.

5 Tips to Delegate Like a Pro

Here are five tips I have learned to help delegate more effectively. I highly suggest perusing more at Hyatt’s site, as well.

  1. Choose wisely. Most of us fail in our delegating efforts before we begin by handing off projects to people with little to no track record of getting things done. Truth be told, we’re just happy to have it off our plate — until we discover it never got done. Then we’re in an even deeper hole. Think of choosing a helper like voting for a politician. Look at what they’ve done and not what they say they will do.
  2. Check in early. Once you’ve been clear about the directions for the task, set up a time to check in early in the process. When someone is headed off course, it’s best to know sooner rather than later. I find a quick check at the 5-10% mark can alleviate a whole lot of hurt later. When I served as a school administrator, I always encouraged my teachers to let kids start on homework [ See my post Why Schools Should Get Rid of Almost All Homework ] while still in class for the same reason. This way teachers could give immediate feedback and spare parents and kids alike a lot of headaches that night.
  3. Check up regularly. We all work better when we’re held accountable, even if we chafe at the thought of it. As Victor Kiam put it, “Procrastination is opportunity’s assassin.” [ Tweet this! ] Truth be told, we all tend to think we have more time than we really do. Knowing that we must give an account on a regular basis keeps us focused, on schedule, and minimizes surprises.
  4. Plan a margin. Speaking of minimizing surprises, the key word is minimize and not eliminate. Surprises will happen. But here’s a neat trick to get accurate time estimates from others that I learned from project management gurus. From those to whom you will be delegating, ask for three time estimates as to how long it will take them to complete the work. Ask for 1) best case scenario where everything goes right, 2) worst-case scenario where Murphy’s Law wreaks havoc on all, and then, given those two potential extremes, 3) the most likely time estimate. Believe it or not, the psychological process of letting them give both best and worst options first means that the final number will be pretty reliable. Uncannily so. You can then plan a margin for error yourself based on that reliable estimate.
  5. Reward a job well done. If the task is done to specs, don’t fail to quickly fulfill your end of the deal. Whether its dinner, a hug, heartfelt thanks or a paycheck, be prompt in delivering it. It’s too easy to forget to follow through once you gotten what you want.

Which of these tips did you find most helpful? What other tips for learning how to overcome our fear and delegate have you learned? Share your thoughts with a click here.

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