Monday, September 14, 2009

Great Leadership Involves Delegation

Be smart when delegating tasks
from our friends at The Apathy Myth: a Blog for America's College Student Leaders
By T.J. Sullivan

You're trying to be a proactive leader, and you delegate an important task. You ask one of your fellow officers to go to the Student Activities Office before Friday and fill out an important form to register your annual fundraising event. Without this form, you cannot reserve the one space on campus that will work for the event. This officer has done these forms a couple of times before, so you don't consider this a high risk delegation.

Fast forward to next Tuesday. You find out that not only did the officer fail to get the form in by Friday, he didn't fill the form out properly, didn't get a required signature, and now the space you desperately needed for the event has been snatched up by another group on campus.

Damn it. Another case of delegation gone wrong. If you had just done it yourself, everything would have been fine. As you shift into crisis mode, you swear that you're never going to delegate an important task to him or anyone else for the rest of your term.

As much as your advisor and guys like me urge you to delegate tasks, the truth is that sometimes it goes well, and sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes you delegate (or "hand over") something complex, and the person does an amazing job. Sometimes you delegate something seemingly minor, and it blows up in your face. It all contributes to that most destructive syndrome of student leadership: the "it's easier if I do it myself" syndrome. We all know that just leads to burnout, falling grades, failed relationships, and stress.

Here are a few ideas that might (and I stress, might) lower your risk of delegation failure.

• Follow up a day or two later with the person, thank them for taking on the task, and ask him or her if they have any questions about the task. Use phrases like, "It's so great to have people like you I can count on."

• Only delegate to people who ask for something to do. Handing that form to a young, eager leader instead of your overworked and easily-distracted secretary might have yielded better results. Before you delegate, ask yourself, "Does this person stand to gain anything from doing this well?" If not, don't give the task to him or her.

• Ask for a confirmation, perhaps by text message, when the deadline is met. If you had asked your fellow officer to text you when the form was turned in Friday, and then you didn't receive one, you could have made a quick call to the Student Activities Office near the end of the day and scrambled, if necessary.

• Do the task with the person the first time. Don't assume that this member or fellow officer knows how to do the task. It might seem simple to you, but maybe it's intimidating to her. It's often best to do the task one time together, then trust the person to do it on her own the next time.

• Make sure the person understands why the task is important. If you had told the officer, "If we don't get this form correct and in by Friday, we might lose the ability to reserve the quad lawn, and someone else will probably grab it for that Saturday," the officer might have felt the urgency a bit more keenly. Let the person know that this is important, and she is more likely to treat it as important.

• Praise the person when he does the job right. It seems silly to celebrate someone for turning in a form, but if you want him to keep doing the job right, you need to give him some positive feedback. A public thank you at your next meeting wouldn't hurt.

• Reward work well done with more work. When someone has shown initiative and an ability to responsibly perform tasks, give that person increasingly important work to do. Let the person build on his or her success with increasing responsibility. People love it when they know you trust and depend on them. If you can build this over time, then you'll have several people that you can trust to do delegated tasks correctly and efficiently.

• Be cool if it doesn't go perfectly. If you had to run in on Friday afternoon and fix something on the form, don't overreact and chastise the person. Use it as a teachable moment and spend a little time with the other person so that the mistake can be avoided in the future. If you act like the world has ended because someone made a mistake, you're not being a good, nurturing leader. People make mistakes, and you'd be smart to worry less about punishing people than helping build their knowledge and abilities.

Delegation is an imperfect science, but you are more likely to be a happy leader if you do it thoughtfully. If you're doing everything yourself, you are not doing your job as a student leader correctly.