How to delegate as a CEO

Despite being a CEO, many leaders still find delegation a tricky feat. Often, once you’ve delegated a task to a trustworthy and capable colleague, it’s off your own list entirely. But should you be ‘delegating, not abdicating’? As a busy leader, it’s important to know that you can pass on work and be confident that it’s done well without your input, but how do you successfully manage tasks that are now considered someone else’s responsibility? 

You’re not alone:

This is a really common problem, even for CEOs. Delegation can be tricky, no matter how senior you are. And yet it’s business critical and good for everyone – it increases team members’ skills, motivation and confidence; it improves productivity and maximises the use of resources for your organisation; it should also reduce time pressure and stress on the person who’s doing the delegating. For some, this last element can be missing.

How to delegate as a leader:

With some tasks and some people, we should be able to delegate and let them get on with it. If they have the skill and the willingness to complete the task, and you set their expectations around not needing to check in constantly, then it should work. Even then, you will want to be on hand to give thanks or praise, showing gratitude and feeding back that this is a job well done. Positive, specific feedback on good work increases the chances that they’ll be able to mimic their success because they know they did well.

A staff member who’s lacking confidence, motivation or skill on the task you’d like to delegate will need more support. To get delegation right, you should:

  • Choose someone who either already has the skill (if you want less involvement) or can develop it with some stretch (if you’re happy to have more involvement).
  • Define the task clearly to yourself and them, and check you’re in agreement over what needs to be done and by when. 
  • Make it clear why you’ve chosen them over someone else, recognising if necessary that you know they might need some support from you and setting clear parameters around when this support should be sought. 
  • Stick to your side of the bargain by being available as promised, and checking in with clear, relevant feedback where needed (particularly at the end). 
  • Be prepared to renegotiate the level of support with them if they appear to need more or less from you than expected.

Consider a chief of staff:

If you’re a CEO, you may also want to consider whether the budget is available for a Chief of Staff. This role is growing in popularity, and whilst on paper they’re all about being a trusted advisor and confidante to a CEO, my practical experience of working with CEOs who have Chief of Staff is that they handle a lot of the delegation and people management challenges, freeing the CEO up to focus on more strategic activity. 

Finally, I want to emphasise that, even if you find delegation hard, you should keep going. The worst thing you or any leader could do is to stop delegating. You need as much time to focus on the big issues that only a CEO can focus on, and your staff need developing and stretching. It’s a win-win if you can just get the practicalities sorted.

3 great resources to inspire you to delegate better:

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