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Involved vs Essential: Learning to Delegate

“The upper limit of what’s possible will increase only with each collaborator you empower to contribute their best work to your shared priorities. Likewise, your power decreases with every initiative you unnecessarily hold on to.” - Jesse Sostrin


A confused line often lies between being involved and being essential in a leaders mindset. Your involvement is a mix of the opportunities, mandates, and choices you make regarding the work you do. How essential you are depends on how decisively and wisely you activate those around you, in other words how well you delegate and motivate. The goal is to become more essential and less involved. You know you’re too involved when your initiatives and priorities do not advance when you take an unexpected leave of absence or a vacation. Your team should be able to advance your priorities while you are away, but still look for your direction and inspiration at crucial points.

Ways to improve your delegation skills:

  • Communicate to your team the why behind the project. In addition to the business objectives the company defines, be sure your team understands your reasons behind a project. Reasons give people stake in the matter and motivate movement toward the end goal. Essentially it creates buy-in.

  • Build your buy-in by inspiring commitment. Define the work, clarify the scope of their contribution, and ensure that it aligns with the employees’ capacity, carefully communicate any and all additional expectations for complete understanding in order to eliminate mind-reading and misinterpretation. By clearing the way of obstacles and misunderstandings, employees can successfully navigate your project without need for micromanagement.

  • Engage at the appropriate level to further decrease the temptation to be over-involved and micro-managing. Ask what the team needs and what their expectations are so you can provide the resources and clear the obstacles, then step back and let them complete their tasks.

  • Use ‘yes,’ ‘no,’ and ‘yes, if’ statements with your team. Learn to align your time with the highest-valued contributions and see your “no’s” as a valuable tool for time management, not a disciplinary measure. Use ‘yes, if’ when you see the opportunity to delegate a project or task to a particular teammate, should they be available. “Yes, we can take on that new project, if our administrator can conduct the background research in time.”

Finally, in delegating, the right tasks will get done when the right people are employed to complete the mission. Hiring smart, conducting skill and personality tests and listening to supervisor’s accounts from the beginning can help leaders commit to delegating and feel confident in their project’s successful completion.

Rod Brace, Ph.D.

Managing Partner

Rod Brace, Ph.D. is a founding partner for Relia Healthcare Advisors specializing in culture assessment, operational excellence and leadership development in High-Reliability Organizations.  He is a faculty member at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and the ACHE.

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