A previous blog post, On Delegation: A Lens for Assessing Strategic Leadership, extolled the virtues of delegation in terms of its ability to simultaneously free up valuable time while developing the skills of the next generation of leaders. The importance of delegation should not be understated, as it plays a critical role in effective strategic leadership. Yet, time and again, we are faced with the same response when encouraging leaders to delegate more work, more often: “There’s just no time for me to delegate!”

Theoretically, clearing some items off of your agenda should give you more time to focus on higher-level objectives. But we know that, in reality, getting to that point in the delegation process does take some extra time in the short-term. However, this short-term cost can lead to substantial long-term dividends—and not just more time to focus on larger issues. Delegating also provides you with a stronger bench to rely on and a chance to identify individuals who can succeed at the next level.

So, What Exactly Do You Delegate?

The key to maximizing this short-term cost to long-term benefit ratio is to determine which tasks are best suited for delegation and which are best to handle yourself.  The ideal tasks to delegate are those that not only drive your organization’s goals, but also develop employees’ skills, can aid in their career advancement, and/or prepare a successor. Finding a single task that accomplishes all of these objectives is a tall order, but delegating a task that accomplishes none of these goals is unlikely to become a fruitful long-term investment.

As a rule of thumb, tasks that CAN be delegated are:

  1. Considered meaningful, rather than insignificant
  2. Proportionate to the employee’s experience and skill level
  3. Those that no longer teach you new skills, but would appropriately challenge another employee

Conversely, it is important to consider what CANNOT be delegated. Most importantly, although you can delegate tasks, you cannot delegate your responsibility for them. Your delegation success depends on selecting the right person for the job and monitoring their work accordingly. As trust builds and a successful track record forms, you can take a more hands-off approach and begin to reap the rewards of your investment.