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Golden Lesson of Leadership: Learning to Delegate

"I’m The Only One Who Can Do It"

Early in my career, I was responsible for the inventory of a moderately sized hospital. I didn’t know anything about inventory, controlling it, or accounting for it. I just knew I needed to order supplies and make sure the hospital didn’t run out of anything. I was busy, and I needed help. Another veterinary technician offered to help place the pet food order. I thought it seemed like an easy task, so I thanked her for her help, handed her the order sheets, and walked away.

She placed the order. The hospital ended up with almost fifty more bags of dry food than it received in a normal order. Fifty more bags! Where was the hospital going to store all the extra inventory? The well-meaning technician had missed the fine print where it differentiated between dry versus canned. We received a lot of dry food and no cans.

That one experience ensured that I never allowed anyone to touch the pet food order again. Clearly, I was the only qualified individual in the entire hospital capable of checking off the right boxes. This task required only my amazing brainpower to be able to ensure that the pencil hit the right box in the right area of the form. No one else could handle such an important job. The thought, “this is why I have to do everything,” came into my mind.

The problem is, I did not show her how to do it. I didn’t even provide her any guidance on how much to order. Too many times, any small mistake will derail an individual from ever delegating again. You do not have to do it all, and you are not the only one who can do it. Many leaders have the mindset that no one else can do their job because anyone else will mess it up, and it’s easier if they just do it. In having that mindset, we become a leader who does everything because we fail to trust our team. The team does not have any freedom to do anything because they are not trusted. This creates a divide between the team and their manager. Teams want to be trusted, just like leaders want to be trusted. By failing to delegate you are failing to put any trust in your team.

Six Key Steps to Delegation

Recognition is First

The first step in delegating is recognizing you need to. It’s not just about you; it’s about creating trust and respect in your team. Yes, delegating will help you in a leadership role, but it is going to provide even more benefits to your employees. They will feel a sense of pride being able to help the hospital rather than being told what to do.

Choose an Item to Let Go

Make sure you pick the right task to let go. Choose something easy to train and will make someone else successful. Don’t choose something that should only be your responsibility (e.g., payroll).

Pick the Right Person

You need to know who on your team has the highest number of relevant skills for a task so that they will be successful. Too many leaders will delegate tasks to whoever has the least amount on their plate or who they are most comfortable with. Many leaders think that giving up a task or asking for help is a sign of weakness. They will only give the task to someone who they know will not judge them. Pick the best-suited person.

Provide Clear Instructions

This is where I went wrong. I handed someone a blank order sheet and told them to order. As a leader, if you have specific preferences for how the task should be carried out, then you need to include that information. If there are deadlines or milestones, you need to make them explicit. Including instructions and details will avoid most communication issues in the future. No employee likes to be handed something with no instructions and then told they did it wrong.

Trust, but Also Double Check

Let the employee know that if it is a task that will be repeated, you are going to check the work the first few times to make sure that it was executed correctly. For example, if you decide to transfer the task of scheduling front desk employees to another employee, you should double-check the schedule for the first two months. Make sure there aren’t any errors before allowing them to publish it. Don’t hover over them every step of the way. Let them work through this task using their own style. If it is a task that only occurs once, you should check in periodically and ask how it is going.

Offer Feedback

If the employee completed a task that was a one-and-done, tell them how they did. Coach them if they need help. If it is a job that gets done periodically throughout the year or even once a month, be sure to thank them many times for helping you. We certainly do not want that employee to think you are taking advantage of them. They should feel a sense of pride that they have this responsibility and are playing a crucial role in helping the team, not just you. They should feel appreciated.

Delegation is important, not just for the person who is delegating, but also for the person who feels trusted to take on a task. The best leaders start developing others to become leaders. When you never delegate you fail to develop others and fail to show your team that you trust them. Delegation is not a weakness so long as you delegate appropriate tasks and not something that is supposed to be solely your responsibility. The best hospital leaders ensure that everyone feels they are part of the hospitals success. Develop your team through the art of delegation and you will find you also develop yourself.

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