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Why delegators make better leaders

Nobody said being a leader would be easy. Your decisions have a direct impact on employees and business outcomes. Your role asks that you provide sound guidance, psychological empowerment, and profitable results. New research reveals a key factor in your effectiveness as a leader  — your willingness to delegate.

According to ScaleTime, CEOs who delegate experience lower levels of decision fatigue, fewer instances of burn out and, “Have been shown to generate 33% more revenue than those with low delegation skills.”

Companies recognize the value this represents with nearly half of 332 companies surveyed in a 2007 study showing concern over their employees’ delegation skills. Everyone knows it’s important, but that doesn’t always translate into action. You’re one person, and the limits of what one person can do, no matter how efficient they are, are finite. For results to scale and to meet KPIs, you need a team. For that team to achieve optimal productivity, they need a leader who can delegate.

True Leaders Aren’t Task Masters

Most leaders rose to their positions in part due to their ability to solve thorny problems. Leadership isn’t about fixing people’s problems. It’s about empowering people to try new things, seek solutions, and engage with work in new and creative ways. Those who delegate well succeed in management. Posting as much as 112% higher growth rates than those who don’t delegate, or who do it poorly.

Your role is to guide them, provide feedback, and allocate resources and expertise. That is delegation. It’s not a to-do list you email to your direct reports every week. It means establishing a culture of responsibility. One where employees take ownership of their work because it reflects their efforts. Do that and you will not only become a better leader yourself, but you will also help prepare future leaders to take charge.

Three Steps Leaders Can Take to Delegate Effectively

As an executive leader, your responsibility lies in company growth, encouraging your team, and building future leaders. That starts with a smart approach to delegation. Here are three steps to do so, starting with yourself.  

  1.     Ask How Your Culture Handles Failure

Does your company’s culture support and encourage employees to take on new responsibilities and stretch in their roles? If not, it will be difficult to offload more complex tasks and nearly impossible to find employees who will proactively bring new ideas and initiatives to your desk.

Employees need to feel safe experimenting and trying new things. Your team needs to know that failure is not only accepted but encouraged. That you, as a leader, will help them learn from those failures. In all size organizations, this starts from the top. If your company culture penalizes failure and seeks out deficiencies to correct, delegation becomes more difficult as employees start to avoid new responsibilities.  

  1.     Have a Conversation Around Delegation

Many managers, especially those who recently transitioned out of the role of an individual contributor, feel guilty delegating. They don’t want to pile on someone’s already busy plate and expand their workload.

But employees want to be challenged. They want to continually grow in their roles and feel like they are contributing original ideas to the business that drive growth. Google famously encourages this by allowing employees to spend 20% of their time on passion projects that align with the company objectives. The number one reason employees look for a new job according to a recent Korn Ferry poll wasn’t culture, salary, or policy – it was boredom. 33% said they wanted a new challenge.

To overcome your guilt and provide the challenge employees crave, ask them directly what they can take on. Delegation can be a collaborative effort in which you encourage your direct reports to step up when a project catches their interest. When you offer the opportunity to take on new responsibilities, most people will jump at it. And they, in turn, will do the same with their direct reports.

  1.     Avoid Taking on Excess Responsibilities

No matter how much you offload, there will always be more to do. Your direct reports (and theirs) will have questions – complex problems for which they don’t have an answer. It could be a difficult client, a budgetary gap, or a problem they can’t solve. And naturally, they turn to leadership for guidance.

This is normal and should be encouraged, but in many cases, leaders will take that problem and add it to a growing mountain of new responsibilities that can’t be delegated.

To keep this from happening, encourage your direct reports to only bring these problems to your attention when they’ve done the research and can present several potential solutions.

Delegation is more than just “telling people what to do”. It’s about encouraging and fostering autonomy in your team and helping them to approach problems critically. If tasks never reach your desk, they don’t have to be delegated.

Understanding the Delegation Paradox

If you were to take a vacation, would progress grind to a halt? Would your team lose momentum and initiatives die on the vine? If the answer is yes, you are far too involved and need to become a better delegator. You are “doing” too many things, and just “doing things’ doesn’t make you essential – it makes you busy. It’s one reason why CEOs who are adept delegators generate up to 33% more revenue than those with low delegation skills.

A leader’s success is measured by the impact they have on those around them. The new ideas, goals met, and growth achieved by your team reflect your effectiveness as a leader. But you’ve been trained for years, possibly decades that your performance is measured on what you accomplish, not who you influence. This makes it exceptionally difficult to step back and “let things happen.”

Torch coaches work with business leaders to identify key areas of strength and weakness. From there they collaborate to build a specialized improvement plan. For many leaders, both new and long-time executives, this includes developing the self-awareness needed to become a better delegator. 

Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of your own leadership style can help you better identify which approach is best for your current role. Check out our ebook, 10 Leadership Styles You Should Know, to learn more about different approaches to leadership and when and how to apply them.