March 26, 2018

Entrepreneurs: It’s Time to Stop “Doing” and Start Delegating Effectively

Do you ever find yourself still caught up in too much “doing” despite delegating tasks to a virtual assistant or other team members?

From personal experience, entrepreneurs can be their own worst enemies with regard to struggling to let go of things. Perhaps they fall into the trap of thinking “no one can do this as well as I can,” or they’re caught up in feeling like they always have to be “on,” no matter what that might entail.

In any case, this can quickly add up to more overwhelm for the business owner, which is completely the opposite of what you’re hoping for when you hire a virtual assistant!

delegating effectively

We’re here to say, drop that task right now and pause to consider the most valuable use of your time (whatever that may be). It’s time to stop “doing” and start delegating effectively:

A mindset shift

If you’re someone who struggles to let go of tasks, even though you have the resources to take advantage of delegation, rest assured you are not alone with this issue. In fact, there have been a number of studies and reports outlining how people tend to struggle with letting go.

A Harvard Business Review report talks about how one of the most difficult transitions for leaders is to go from doing to leading. There is much admiration held for a “roll up your sleeves” attitude, but everyone reaches a point where this leads to overwhelm, or time not as effectively spent as it could be. 

You could even look at it as adding more to your own plate, while denying team members an opportunity to grow within their roles.

For many people, getting to a point where they’re comfortable with task delegation means a mindset shift where they take a serious look at their own hold on work, and how letting that go might make them a better leader. The Harvard report puts it well:

delegating effectively
“While it may seem difficult, elevating your impact requires you to embrace an unavoidable leadership paradox: You need to be more essential and less involved. When you justify your hold on work, you’re confusing being involved with being essential. But the two are not the same — just as being busy and being productive are not necessarily equal.”

Effecting a mindset shift

First steps to a mindset shift might involve getting out of a week-to-week or shorter-term mentality, and looking to the year ahead. Yes, you might need to slow down your regular pace in order to devise effective systems and processes for delegation, but doing so now will save you a huge amount of time in the long run.

One way of looking at it: it’s more important that your virtual assistant or other team members are operating effectively rather than trying to squeeze even more work out of yourself. This way, as a unit your team and business can be much more productive.

Another potential mindset shift is in how you view your team members. Do you see them as a cost, or do you see them as an investment in the success of your business? We usually take care to build up investments, to ensure that we’re looking after them in order to get the best return. When something is seen as a cost, we might penny-pinch, leading to thoughts like “I’ll save money if I hang onto this task myself.”

delegating effectively

How to delegate tasks effectively

What does it take to get out of all of this “doing” and start effectively delegating instead? Let’s look at a few pointers:

Know what type of delegation you would like

One of the big “excuses” we hear for not delegating as much as possible goes something like: “Yep, tried that. I didn’t like the result.” Have you considered that how you delegate can impact the results you get?

For example, if you were to say to someone “we need to organize a new webinar software provider,” they could easily take that to mean “go forth and procure some software.” That might be fine if you don’t really feel the need to approve of the software choice, but many people would absolutely hate this.

A Dropbox article describes the types of delegation as the following:

  • “Do this exact thing”
  • “Research and let me know”
  • “Research and make a recommendation”
  • “Research, take action, but keep me informed”
  • “Just go for it…no need to check back in”
delegating effectively

Establish what it is that you’re comfortable with for the particular tasks you need doing and make sure you communicate this with the virtual assistant!

Provide context

How many times have you been handed tasks where you really had no idea how to begin them? You flail around trying to get them going, but you have no idea whether you’re on the right track or not.

This is what can happen if you simply dump a list of tasks on a virtual assistant with no context behind them. It’s important to take the time to provide any essential background information and ensure that they have what they need to get the tasks done according to what you are expecting. 

No one is a mind reader!

As part of providing context, be clear about what things are a priority. It can help to establish a system where you categorize tasks by priority (such as a traffic light system), so that your virtual assistant knows exactly where to start.

Delegate problems

David Bailey wrote a Medium post in which he describes his early forays into delegation of work. He describes his frustration when, after delegating a task to a team member, they did exactly as he asked but didn’t yield any results. He had the nagging feeling that there was something he could do better with how he delegated things.

That was when he got into a conversation with a mentor, who shared advice that set off a lightbulb moment:

“Delegate problems, not tasks.”

Why? Well, the team member had done exactly what they were asked to do, but that didn’t solve the problem for the end-state that David desired.

Had he more specifically said; “I need interviews booked with potential candidates,” perhaps the person would have found a more successful way to get that done. Instead, they emailed recruiting agencies (which is what they were asked to do), and heard back from none of them.

As an extension of this, consider whether you would like to help develop team members by teaching new skills. It might take you some organizational time in the short-term, but can save you in the long-run when your upskilled team can take over key tasks.

Trust, but verify

Task delegation tends to work out better if you demonstrate that you trust your virtual assistant to get the work done. No one enjoys having someone hanging over their shoulder, projecting the idea that perhaps they can’t be trusted.

Give people the space to get the project done however they see fit, but do check in from time to time to ensure that they are on-track for due dates, or to ensure that they know they can speak up if they need help.

What delegation isn’t

It’s worth checking in for a word on what effective delegation of tasks doesn’t look like. One of the first things that comes to mind is the “seagull manager.” You know, the one who swoops by, gull-like, deposits a load of *%&^! on you in the form of “busy work”, then disappears again. This style of management is ineffective because it tends to demotivate team members.

While you might need some more tedious tasks taken care of (and it’s important that they’re not on your plate), it’s also vital to ensure that you’re giving work that motivates team members to do a good job. Tasks that seem meaningless don’t provide that motivation - look to have a good balance so that team members have plenty of tasks for which they see real results.

Plus, dumping a load of tasks and disappearing can leave team members with the feeling that they’re not particularly valued. You’ll give the impression that you see them as “task robots” rather than integral members of a team. Consider the human side of the equation when you delegate - people work well when they feel valued and recognized for their good work.

delegating effectively

Final Thoughts

Delegating effectively might require a mindset shift. This is commonly a big challenge for leaders who have been used to “doing,” but learning to let go will make you more effective as a leader.

Learning to effectively delegate those tasks which you really don’t need to be doing helps you to make the space for activities which grow your business, rather than spending so much time on the hamster wheel.

Take steps to define how you will delegate and provide context to tasks, and consider how you might encourage the best work from the team member. Effective delegation means trusting team members to do the work, without being so hands-off that they’re left with the feeling of being on their own. Set defined boundaries, and enjoy the benefits that delegating brings to your business!

Interested to learn more about all the kinds of tasks that you can delegate to a virtual assistant? Our Ultimate Guide to Virtual Assistants will teach you all you need to know from hiring a virtual to how you can manage one. Make sure to give it a read.


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