Brian Tracy is a big name in the world of leadership and management. I first came across his writings when a friend recommended his book on time management, called Eat that Frog. I picked up one of his recent books, Delegation & Supervision at the airport last week, because I needed something short and punchy to read on my flight. It’s a pocket book, literally fitting into my jacket pocket, but fundamentally because it’s a summary of important ideas that have all been developed in more detail elsewhere. Delegation and supervision are essential responsibilities for any effective team leader. This book is a useful primer for anyone who works with other people, and especially for those who lead them.
Delegation & Supervision is built on the premise that delegation is a skill that can be learned, and must be learned, if we are going to become effective leaders in our organisations. The more we practice it, the easier it gets.
I work in an organisation (a church) where the lion’s share of our budget goes on paying people. Under God, people are our focus and our most valuable resource. The role of the lead pastor is to develop his staff. The role of the pastoral staff is to develop the people in the teams who work with them. The role of these teams is… and so it continues. We need to be committed to growing people and this will involve delegation.
Tracy challenges us to overthrow the myths that block effective delegation. My guess is we’ve heard most of them, if not propagated them ourselves. These myths are:
- There is not enough time to delegate.
The reality is that if we don’t delegate there will never be enough time for anything.
- The staff is not competent enough.
People are often more competent than we realise. They need the opportunity to try things, to make mistakes, and to learn from them.
- If you want it done right, you have to do it yourself.
Failure to delegate means others don’t become equipped and we become the bottleneck to things getting done.
- People will think you’re not on top of things if you delegate to others.
This reveals an ego problem, and it’s simply not true.
- When you are good at something, you should do it yourself.
Equipping others to do what we are good at, frees us to develop other areas, and expands the capacity of the organisation.
The starting point of delegation is to think. Take the time to work out what will be involved in the project or area of responsibility. Seek to match the tasks to people who are well suited to do them. They probably won’t be experts, but they should be able to perform the task at least 70% optimally. Past performance is the best indicator of future performance. One of the keys to effective delegation is getting the right person to do the right job. Tracy quotes Jim Collins in Good to Great, in saying that top managers are those who get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats on the bus. (p23)
Clarity is essential to good delegation. People need to know 1) what it is we need them to do; 2) when we need it; and 3) the level of quality we expect. Clarity is a powerful motivator of people, but when expectations are unclear, people lose motivation and become unhappy, stressed, and aggravated. Clarity should ideally be achieved upwards and downwards in the organisation. We need to understand what our supervisors consider to be the priorities and we need to be clear about our priorities when we delegate.
Good delegation requires clarity about goals and objectives. This is best achieved by the manager taking the time to discuss them with the employee prior to delegation. It’s important to agree on what is to be accomplished, when, how, and also how results will be checked. Once this is done, the task is ready to be handed over—but not before.
Good delegation should involve handing over responsibility for decision making. People need to be encouraged and empowered to think through decisions for themselves and make good choices in the interests of the organisation. If decisions keep being handed back to the one doing the delegating, then the benefits of delegation will be lost. He suggests that if people come back to us with a decision to be made or a problem to be solved, that they should first be required to complete a four step problem solving process:
- Write it down. Clearly define the problem or decision that needs to be made.
- Determine the causes. Work out how and why the problem occurred.
- Identify the solution. Come up with as many options as possible.
- Make the decision.
Once these steps have been taken, people can then come back to us—most likely having already solved the problem, if not made the decision themselves.
Tracy distills many of the best ideas about delegation into seven key skills. These are:
- Match the person to the job
- Delegate gradually
- Delegate the whole task
- Delegate specific results
- Encourage participation and discussion
- Delegate authority and responsibility
- Leave the person alone
I’ve picked up a number of good ideas from this book. Sometimes it has simply given a name to something I’ve already been practising, such as managing by exception (MBE). This is the idea that if the job is proceeding according to the guidelines and goals, not going over budget or the time allocated, then no regular reporting is needed. Maybe just the occasional update to keep me in the loop on how things are going. I also loved the idea of managing by wandering around (MBWA). Stay in touch with people, show an interest in what they’re doing, by visiting them ‘on site’ to see how they are going. This removes some of the formality of check-ins and reports.
Tracy quotes Ken Blanchard in saying that feedback is the breakfast of champions! (p68) Feedback is essential, and should be offered in a manner that makes it appreciated. We should avoid judgmental feedback that puts people on the defensive. We need to allow for honest mistakes and make charitable assumptions about why things have gone badly. Yet, we should always keep our expectations of others high, and encourage them to rise to our expectations.
Tracy discusses the benefits of understanding different personality types as we are seeking to encourage the best in people. Tools such as the DISC profile offer valuable insights on people, their communication and work styles, preferences, how they engage with others, what they find difficult, and more. Every person added to a team multiplies the complexity of relationships. As we engage more and more people in our work, and delegate more responsibilities to others, having good awareness of how people tick is essential in making wise choices.
I appreciated the chapter on avoiding reverse delegation. This is helpful advice for parents of teenagers too! The key here is to assist people to solve their own problems, force them to think, and keep them responsible for their own areas—rather than allowing them to hand things back when they run into difficulty. When things are effectively handed back, even if a small part of the whole, then effective delegation has been sabotaged.
The book closes with five keys to effective delegation and supervision. I will quote some extracts:
First, accept complete responsibility and accountability for yourself and your staff, and for everything they do or do not do. Accept 100 per cent responsibility for delegating the right tasks, for supervising, and for getting the job done through others.
Second, view your staff as younger family members, almost like your children. Realise that, just like children, they need a continuous flow of feedback, accurate direction, teaching, guidance, help , and clear performance standards.
Third, practice the friendship factor … as a result they will be more committed and dedicated to doing an excellent job.
Fourth, treat your staff the way you would like to be treated by your boss. Delegate the way you would like to be delegated to. Give feedback the way you would like to receive feedback.
Fifth and finally, remember that human resources are the most valuable assets that the company has. (p98-99)
Delegation and supervision are essential responsibilities of managers and leaders in most field of work. I found this book resonated with my experiences—successes and failures—as a pastor of a growing church, with a dozen staff, and hundreds of voluntary workers. It is so easy to become a bottleneck in our organisations precisely because we haven’t engaged seriously with the importance of delegation. Sometimes we confuse delegation with abdication and fail to supervise. This book briefly, simply, and clearly expounds the key aspects of both. It’s an excellent tool and I wish I’d read it years ago (except it was only published in 2013)!