In entrepreneurial circles, there’s always plenty of talk about leadership. People can’t get enough of talking about what leadership is, who’s got a natural talent for it, and how valuable it is. That’s not all. People also love to debate which qualities and skills matter most in a leader.
For evidence, look no further than the site where you’re reading this article. Some contributors cite motivation as a key leadership quality. Others say humility is the key. Still more point to things like confidence and a sense of humor. And far be it from me to debate anyone on those points.
Instead, I’d like to come at the topic from a different angle. I look at leadership from the perspective of someone who works with entrepreneurs from all walks of life. And if you asked me what I thought was the most important thing a good leader can do, I wouldn’t have to think it over — how to delegate and does so effectively.
Delegation is important in leadership, yet is something that many entrepreneurs struggle with. After all, many of them started their businesses by wearing multiple hats and having a hand in everything their business did, and that’s not an easy habit to break.
But those who did it are the ones who went on to lead successful teams that drove bottom-line growth and business expansion. The reasons for that are manifold. And to make them clear, I’m going to break them down for you.
What Is Delegation?
Simply put, delegation is the act of assigning tasks and responsibilities to one’s subordinates. In a business context, it’s how a hierarchical organizational structure gets things done, and it’s something that managers at every level do (or at least should be doing).
But for entrepreneurs, delegation doesn’t always come naturally. For some, maintaining control over the day-to-day minutiae of their business operations is paramount. While that’s a work style that has its place—notably in the earliest days of a startup—it falls apart rather quickly as the scale of the business grows.
Why Delegation Is Important in Leadership
If you think about it, the very concept of leadership provides the answer to why delegation is so critical. According to Forbes magazine:
“Leadership is a process of social influence, which maximizes the efforts of others, towards the achievement of a goal.”
If you accept that the definition of leadership is influencing others to make their best efforts in service of a single goal, then delegation isn’t just critical to leadership—you could argue that it is leadership.
If you wish to lead a team toward achieving a goal, that means you need to maximize the skills of each team member by playing to their individual strengths. That means giving them things to do based on their abilities, and it also means getting out of their way and letting them handle the tasks you’ve given them.
If you remain completely hands-on through the process, you’re no longer leading—you’re doing. And if you do that, you also don’t have a team—you have a handful of assistants.
Last but not least, if you refuse to trust others to be responsible for the tasks you set for them, they’re not likely to trust you either.
As anyone who’s been in management positions can tell you, it’s awfully hard to lead people toward a goal if they don’t trust you. They’ll spend more time second-guessing your plans and the work of other team members than they will by getting things done.
Benefits of Delegation for Leaders and Their Teams
Now that you know why delegation is so important, you should also know why it’s so beneficial for leaders and for the teams they’re leading.
So, let’s look at some of the benefits that leaders can get from effective delegation and how their teams benefit, too.
1. More Time for Strategic Thinking
One of the biggest benefits leaders get from delegation is that they have more time left over for important—but not necessarily project-oriented—tasks. In other words, they stop being consumed with the work in front of their team and have more time to plan, evaluate, and form strategies for the team’s future.
It’s what management theorists call strategic thinking, and it’s essential to long-term business success.
You don’t have to take my word for it. According to a Harvard Business Review study that surveyed 10,000 senior business leaders, strategic thinking was rated as the leadership behavior most closely linked with organizational success.
Yet, at the same time, a staggering 96% of leaders polled in another study reported that they had no time for strategic thinking.
The answer? Delegation.
If leaders can effectively delegate tasks, they can make time for strategic thinking within their own schedules.
2. Building Stronger Teams
As I touched on earlier, another benefit that comes from a leader delegating tasks and responsibilities to those they lead is that it builds trust. Nothing tells someone that you trust them more than giving them something important to do and letting them do it without interference.
According to leadership experts, trust is essential to making people comfortable with your leadership. And trust is reciprocal—when a leader demonstrates trust in their team members, those team members will trust their leader, too.
Beyond that, though, delegating to your team also helps them develop their abilities and become stronger and more valuable members of the team. As they say, practice makes perfect. And what better way is there for your team to practice their skills than by using them?
3. Developing Organizational Leaders
Another thing about delegation that’s beneficial to organizations—and leaders themselves, by proxy—is that it’s how you develop more leaders. That’s because delegation isn’t always just about assigning tasks. You can also practice leadership delegation.
Leadership delegation, as its name suggests, is when you empower a member of your team to lead a sub-group that’s working toward a particular goal. In other words, you’re giving them a leadership role and asking them to run with it. By doing so, you’re empowering them and providing a chance for them to develop their leadership abilities.
Developing leaders throughout an organization is considered essential among business experts, and it’s easy to understand why. It’s because there’s a growing body of research that suggests that home-grown leaders create better business outcomes in businesses of all kinds.
These beneficial outcomes for companies can be seen when women are given leadership positions. A research study found that having 30% of women in C-suite positions adds 6% to net profit margins.
That also tracks with the experiences of today’s most successful entrepreneurs. After all, you don’t see Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates still running their respective companies these days, do you? They’ve long since handed off leadership to people they developed from within.
In Microsoft’s case, leadership passed to Steve Ballmer and later, Satya Nadella. In Amazon’s case, leadership passed to Andy Jassy. All three were insiders for years before taking the reins of their respective firms.
4. Increased Job Satisfaction
Delegation is beneficial to the people you’re leading, too. That’s because it has a positive effect on the job satisfaction of those working under your leadership.
According to a review of four separate studies on the subject, employees whose managers delegated tasks effectively were happier in their roles. And although the studies pertained mostly to the medical field, there’s every reason to believe that the underlying logic holds elsewhere.
The reason all the studies cited for the increased job satisfaction was that the delegation gave the team members an increased sense of autonomy. There’s plenty of data suggesting that autonomy is one of the major keys to job satisfaction.
One study involving 20,000 employees in the UK demonstrated a direct causal link between autonomy and job satisfaction. To summarize the finding: the more autonomy, the happier the employee.
5. Better Organizational Accountability
Last but not least, delegation is a way that leaders can build organizational accountability. In fact, it’s the only way they can. This is because you can’t hold others responsible for tasks unless you turn over control of tasks to others. In doing so, you have to set clear expectations and grant real autonomy to the person you delegate to.
Leaders who try to stay hands-on—when not asked for their assistance or input—can’t rightly hold a subordinate responsible for an outcome. That’s because the very act of intervening demonstrates a lack of trust and removes the locus of control from the person you’ve delegated to.
In a very real sense, you’re all but telling them that you’re the one in charge—and that means you’re the one who is ultimately accountable for the outcome. In that way, you’re creating a pass-the-buck mentality that will permeate your whole organization.
By contrast, if you make it clear that delegation means control and that control means accountability, your team will get the message and have the right expectations. All you have to do then is give them the right tools to succeed. More often than not, that’s exactly what they’ll do.
At this point, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that there’s a whole lot more to leadership than delegation. But it should be clear by now why delegation is so important to leadership.
It should also be clear how many other aspects of good leadership flow from it. So, at a minimum, you should consider the ability to delegate a must-have for any successful leader.
That’s good news because the ability to delegate isn’t something you have to be born with. It’s something that I’ve seen plenty of entrepreneurs struggle with. But I’ve also seen countless entrepreneurs work at it and learn how to delegate with ease. In fact here’s an article to help you: How to Start Delegating Tasks Effectively (Step-by-Step Guide)
The important thing is to recognize what it is and why you should be doing it—and you’ll have all the motivation you need to make delegation a part of your leadership arsenal.
Featured photo credit: Jason Goodman via unsplash.com