A Sorority Girl Lesson in Delegation: What Not to Do

I used to be good at delegation, almost too good as I was told. When I was the public relations chair for my college sorority, I organized our annual weeklong teacher appreciation events. With every daily task broken out, I assigned members of my committee different tasks best suited to their strengths.

The girl who knew calligraphy wrote the notes.

The crafty girl fond of tulle ribbon made the gift baskets.

The bubbly girls whom everyone knew delivered each morning’s goodies.

With everyone’s signature contribution to the project in place, I pulled off the event quickly and easily. How? I assigned out every single task. I didn’t write a single note, assemble a single basket or wake up early to haul a single basket across campus. In short, I didn’t really do anything, except recognize what talents my sorority sisters had.

Later, I got feedback from committee members who gave me the perfect backhanded sorority girl compliment. “Shelby was so organized and had everything under control and delegated, so much that she didn’t have to do much. She almost delegated too well.”

I delegated too well… that’s the first and last time I ever heard that. Nowadays, I recognize when I have trouble delegating even small, well-defined tasks and how that creates a bottleneck for larger, undefined tasks. But it’s often the undefined tasks that are most important and most rewarding.

Learning to delegate is still a work in progress for me, but luckily my work for SUCCESS.com helps me learn how to be better. Here are 3 things I’ve recently learned to delegate more efficiently:

1. First off, don’t apologize for delegating.

Maybe it’s my Catholic girl guilt, but at times I still feel guilty taking tasks off my to-do list and giving them to others. On its surface, the obvious benefit of delegation is lightening your workload, but that’s not the most important.

Delegation provides a challenge for your team and encourages them to develop capabilities beyond their basic job description. This development prepares them for future assignments and promotions. Truly, it’s the only way to help your team grow.

2. Know what to hand over.

There are plenty of times I’ve stopped writing mid-email to ask whether I needed to assign this task in the first place. Instead, SUCCESS.com columnist Patti Johnson poses a different question, “Ask yourself: Must it be me? Are you the only one who can do this work?”

Delegation is not about whether you can do something, but whether you should.

The best things to delegate are:

• Routine or repeating tasks that occur every week, month or quarter
• Fun or interesting assignments. Don’t keep all the fun stuff to yourself.
• Skills such as writing, design or data analysis that others can perform better or faster than you
• Skilled tasks that will develop and benefit your team members
• Lengthy, tedious tasks that will cost more time than money

3. Know what not to delegate.

Whether it’s an unformed scope of work or a project lacking key information, never delegate a task that you can’t clearly describe. There’s a difference between wanting someone to “take it and run,” and simply wanting them to take it without any direction. 

Other things you shouldn’t delegate:

• Team encouragement and leadership. That’s always your job.
• Reprimand or sensitive, personnel matters
• Crisis situations
• Pieces of projects instead of the whole. Team members need to see the big picture to best understand the project.

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Shelby Skrhak

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