Leadership is an incredibly important skill in the workplace, as well as in many educational and voluntary situations. Leadership skills aren’t just for managers and those in official leader positions, either. In fact, the earlier you can hone your leadership skills, the better!
Delegation is one of the core skills of great leadership. Let’s dive into what delegation is, what it looks like, and how you can practice it fairly.
What is Delegation?
Delegation simply refers to handing work over to another person to complete. It is a way of dividing up tasks so that everyone does their fair share towards a common goal.
At work, good managers have to delegate tasks to members of their team all the time. Bosses and leaders who don’t delegate properly end up stressed out and with too much on their plates.
When Might You Need to Divide Up Tasks?
There are many everyday situations that require a fair division of tasks to reach a larger goal, both in and outside of the workplace. Here are just a few non-work examples where delegation and task-sharing might be required:
- Working on a group project for school or university
- Sharing household chores at home
- Sharing caring responsibilities (such as caring for a child, a pet, or an ill or injured person)
- Working together on a voluntary or charity initiative
- Collaborating on a creative project
In fact, almost any situation where you have to work together with other people requires dividing up tasks fairly between all participants. But what does that fairness look like?
What is Fairness in Delegation?
Dividing up work between a group might seem like a simple task. But actually, it’s a lot more complicated than it looks!
Though it is tempting to think that a situation is only “fair” when everyone has to do the same amount or has the same level of responsibility, this way of looking at delegation is unlikely to succeed. Why? Because everyone has different strengths, weaknesses, abilities, goals, and commitments.
Fairness is defined as “impartial and just treatment or behaviour without favouritism or discrimination.” We can also think about it as treating each other in a way that is right or reasonable, without favouring anyone over anyone else.
When it comes to dividing up tasks, fairness can get complicated. Remember that the point isn’t for everyone to be doing the same tasks or even for everyone to be doing the same amount of tasks, necessarily. The goal is for everyone to be able to contribute in a meaningful way without feeling overburdened or too stressed out.
There are lots of factors that come into play when you’re deciding how to divide up work. For example, it is not fair to stick someone with all the undesirable tasks while someone else gets the “fun” jobs… even if the person with the more desirable tasks has more work overall. Ideally, everyone should get to do something they enjoy and everyone should pitch in on the less exciting parts.
You also need to account for how much time and energy tasks take. If Person A has a task that will take an hour and Person B has a task that will take a day, that’s probably not a fair division of work. On the other hand, this might be absolutely fine if Person B has specifically asked for a lot of responsibility while Person A prefers to take on a smaller, supporting role.
Abilities and strengths also come into play. People are likely to find it less arduous and time-consuming to do a task they’re good at as opposed to one they struggle with. However, if someone wants a chance to practice a skill they’re less confident in, giving them the opportunity might also be a form of fairness.
The best way to understand what is fair? Get to know everyone, understand their strengths and their goals, and ask them what they would consider fair. Most importantly, be prepared to adapt as things change (more on this in a minute.)
Motivating Others to Do Their Fair Share
A good leader isn’t someone who barks orders or expects to be obeyed. A good leader is someone who understands how to motivate and inspire others so that they want to do their fair share and contribute meaningfully towards the shared goal.
The best way to motivate others is to start leading by example. If others see you consistently meeting your obligations and doing what you say you’re going to do, they will be much more likely to follow suit.
You can also motivate others by checking in with them regularly and listening to what they say. How are they coping with their workload? Do they need any extra help or support? What tasks are they finding enjoyable or not so enjoyable? Is anything harder or easier than expected? If people feel understood and supported, they are more empowered to work hard and do their best.
Finally, you can help motivate people by ensuring everyone understands the eventual goal you’re working towards. That goal might be a finished class project, a clean house, a piece of creative work, or something else entirely. If you are all invested in the outcome, you will all want to give your best efforts towards achieving it.
Delegation is an Ongoing Process
Delegation and dividing up tasks between a group isn’t a one-time thing. It’s an ongoing process that you might need to revisit again and again, especially in the case of long-term projects.
When you check in with your team, you might need to make adjustments depending on how people are coping with particular tasks. Sometimes things take longer than expected, or people run into unexpected road bumps. Then there are unforeseen circumstances, such as someone getting sick or leaving the team half way through the project.
It is best to approach task-sharing as a dynamic thing that will keep shifting, and learn to adjust to the circumstances that crop up.
Exercise: Practicing Delegation
Think about your household. Who do you live with? Make a list of everyone who lives in your home.
Next, create a list of chores that need doing daily or weekly. Examples might include cooking, vacuuming, walking the dog, taking out the rubbish, or cleaning the bathroom.
Finally, come up with a plan for how to delegate those tasks between the group. Take into account everyone’s existing responsibilities as well as their abilities, strengths, and the tasks they enjoy as well as the tasks they hate.
Explain, either in writing or to a family member or friend, why you believe your delegation plan to be fair and equitable.