Look Out Below! Searching for a Better Way to Delegate


How can a leader make sure her people feel empowered to complete the work delegated to them rather than crushed under its weight?

In the classic cartoon series created by Warner Bros., Wile E. Coyote is determined to catch the Road Runner and tirelessly chases after the fast-running, ground-bound bird. However, the coyote experiences a number of comical misfortunes that prevent him from cornering his prey. Perhaps the most common is that, just as the Road Runner finally appears within reach, a giant anvil inexplicably falls from the sky and flattens Wile E. Coyote.

When it comes to delegation, many employees identify with Wile E. Coyote. One moment they feel like they’re succeeding on the job, and then suddenly their supervisor drops a huge assignment on them, out of nowhere, offering little instruction on how to complete it. The experience leaves them disempowered, de-motivated, and defeated.

How can a leader make sure her people feel empowered to complete the work delegated to them rather than crushed under its weight?

Follow the Five-Step Equipping Process

To be a good delegator obviously requires more than shouting “Look out below!” and dumping a bundle of tasks on your team. People need to be equipped for the job. Always remember, the goal of delegation is not only to accomplish a project, but also to develop people into more capable leaders.

1. Tell people what you want them to do

When you delegate a task to your people, make a point to help them capture your vision for what the completed task will look like. In addition, explain the purpose of the project, and how it connects to the big picture.

2. Show them what good performance looks like

Telling is not the same as training; people need to be shown a demonstration in order to grasp how to complete a task.

3. Let them do it.

Listening is not the same as learning. People need interactive, hands-on experience to be equipped properly.

4. Observe their performance

As Ronald Reagan advised, “trust but verify.” Empower your people to excel, but don’t assume that delegation is done once you’ve trained someone on an assignment. You’re still responsible for its success. Monitor their performance and measure their progress, letting them know how they’re doing along the way and offering constructive feedback as needed.

5. Praise progress

What gets rewarded gets repeated. People quickly learn what gets applauded and what does not in your organization. Create an environment in your workplace that openly praises and rewards personal achievement.

Thought to Ponder

Zig Ziglar said, “The only thing worse than training employees and losing them, is not training them and keeping them.” Before you hand out your next project, make sure you've done your best to set your people up to succeed by empowering them to maximize their productivity and potential.

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