What Great Bosses Know about Delegating

A friend touched base the other day, asking for information about effective delegation. She wanted to share it with someone who is moving into a leadership role and would benefit from knowing the what, when, why and how of sharing work responsibilities with others. I sent her a column I wrote awhile back called "Why We Don't Delegate, but Could." And I realized she had inspired me to write an update.

Great bosses understand the art of delegation. But it doesn't mean they don't struggle with it. These days, when I talk with overworked, stressed-out newsroom managers, I know it can be dangerous to raise the "D" word. Their response might be, "Delegate to whom? The ones who took the buyout? The ones we laid off? The ones who are already doing the jobs of three people?"

Points well taken. But the alternative is to suffocate under your tasks. So instead, I suggest you examine your strategy for delegation (if you have one). Start by identifying these 10 aspects of your workload:

  1. Tasks only you should do
  2. Tasks only you can do
  3. Tasks you love and hate to let go
  4. Tasks you hate and assume everyone hates, too
  5. Tasks you do by habit or tradition
  6. Tasks your boss believes should be your priority and why
  7. Tasks your staff believes should be your priority and why
  8. Tasks you do that helps others do their best work
  9. "Stretch" assignments that build skills
  10. "Marquee" assignments that can spotlight success

Now, here are questions to help you evaluate each one of these 10 aspects:

  1. Why am I the only one who should do this? What's the risk if I delegate? How do I minimize the risk?
  2. Why am I the only one skilled enough to do this? Is it time to train others?
  3. Is my love for this task taking too much of my time or keeping others from an opportunity?
  4. Why do I think everyone hates work that I hate? Have I checked?
  5. Is it time to break tradition around here? Who would benefit?
  6. How would delegating help me meet the boss's priorities, and my own?
  7. Have I talked with staff about balancing my priorities and how they could help?
  8. Do I get so busy that I neglect tasks that help others grow, like feedback and coaching? Would delegating some other tasks free up that time for my people?
  9. Could delegating this task help someone else grow?
  10. Could delegating this task give someone else a chance to shine?

By examining your assumptions, you can make some thoughtful decisions about delegating. I find that managers are often surprised to find that they have been overly worried about handing off some responsibilities. Staff members really do want additional responsibilities that can make them more valuable. When managers do it right, they're not just dumping, they're truly delegating.

What are the top obstacles to delegation? I share the four biggest barriers in today's three-minute podcast, "What Great Bosses Know about Delegation":

Poynter's "What Great Bosses Know" podcast is sponsored by The City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. Poynter's leadership and management expert Jill Geisler shares practical information on leadership and management that's valuable for bosses in newsrooms and all walks of life.

You can subscribe to this podcast via RSS or to any of our podcasts on iTunes U.

  • Jill Geisler

    Jill helps news managers learn how to lead her favorite people in the world - journalists. Good journalists, she points out, question authority and resist "spin." It takes exceptional leaders to build trust, along with the systems and culture that grow great journalism.


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