Top 5 Tips for Delegating to Subordinates

Too many leaders micromanage their Platoons, Companies or other organizations.  Perhaps they have a mindset that only they can do things the right way or that their super hands-on approach is best because they can ensure that everything gets done their way.  However, a true leader is not a slave to the details.  Real leaders use their valuable time to handle what is truly important. 

Delegating to your subordinates can increase the morale, confidence and productivity in your subordinates and also saves you time.  Basically, you can spend 20 minutes every day doing something your subordinates should be doing, and thus spend 86 hours doing that task during the next five years or so. Or, you can spend 3 hours one day training your Soldiers to do it, and not have to spend any time on it ever again.  Here are my Top 5 Tips for Delegating to Subordinates.

1. Utilize your best talent.  The first aspect to effective delegation begins before you actually do any delegation at all; rather, it starts in the selection of who you are going to delegate to. Choosing the best talent for your team or a particular task is the most paramount part of effective delegation. Everything rests on having people that are competent and can successfully carry out the responsibilities you delegate just as well as could do yourself…maybe even better.  Choose Soldiers who are creative and self-motivated enough to execute without you constantly looking over their shoulder and giving instruction.

2. Delegate in a way where Soldiers will willingly accept it.  When you delegate a task to a Soldier, that Soldier will view the responsibility with one of two responses: resentment or pride. To ensure it is pride, never delegate responsibilities that everyone knows you should specifically be doing. My personal rule is never to delegate things that I wouldn’t be willing to do myself if I could. When you delegate a task, tell that Soldier why you chose them-why you think they’re particularly well-suited for the task.  A compliment can go a long way, and will give that Soldier a sense of importance and a sense of purpose.

3. Have consistent standards. We are not talking about the Army standard here, but rather your own standards and expectations.  Oftentimes, leaders who complain that their Soldiers don’t have the ability to take on responsibilities competently are sometimes to blame themselves. They have not given their subordinates clear guidance on what is expected of them. These leaders do not know themselves what they want and yet are frustrated when the result of a Soldier’s work is not up to their desired end-state. They know what they don’t like, but can’t articulate what they do want.  When delegating, we must always, always, always give a specific task and purpose and maintain a consistent standard for what we expect.

 4. Give some “freedom of maneuver” for the Soldier to complete the task. Once you delegate a responsibility, you are placing your trust in that Soldier to carry out your intent. Constantly looking over their shoulder to check on how things are going will show your subordinate that you do not really trust them, and thus will actually erode their confidence and slow their productivity, creativity and ultimately their success. Give the Soldier room to be able to successfully complete their task, and remember, while there is only one intent…yours, it doesn’t have to be achieved exactly how you would do it. Let them do things in their own way within the Army standards.

 5. Follow-up. Giving “freedom to maneuver” doesn’t mean you never check in at all. Periodically follow-up with the Soldier, not necessarily to stick your nose in what they’re doing, but to see if they have any questions or concerns that need to be discussed or explained.

 FINAL THOUGHTS:  Treat your subordinates as true partners, listening to their feedback and respecting their ideas and opinions. A great leader understands that the boots on the ground often has the best insights to offer on what is really going on and needs to be done.  The ability to judiciously and effectively delegate is a quality far more quiet than others, and yet one of the most fundamental to a leader’s accomplishment. Effective delegation is one of the secrets to achieving your objectives.

Do you have any added tips? Do you have any questions? You can post them below. Thank you.

chuck holmes

Chuck Holmes
Former Army Major (resigned)

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