“Surround yourself with the best people you can find, delegate authority, and don’t interfere as long as the policy you’ve decided upon is being carried out.” — Ronald Reagan, 40th President of the United States
As a leader, you know you must delegate many of the tasks for which you’re ultimately responsible, if you’re to be successful in meeting your goals. You know you can’t do it all yourself. Typically, under-delegation is more common than over-delegation, and most leaders should give more away.
That said, there are some things leaders should never delegate. Some tasks obviously shouldn’t be delegated, such as the combination for the safe containing the bank’s gold bullion, or the passwords to critical organizational computer files; however, sometimes it’s less clear-cut, and it’s hard to determine what to keep for yourself.
Ironically, the things you shouldn’t delegate tend not to be things like codes, combinations, or keys. Intangibles like team building, discipline, and praise are the things you can least afford to delegate to someone else.
The Top Five
Nothing short of an entire book would be sufficient to discuss completely all the critical elements smart managers don’t delegate. So here’s a quick primer of the top five things I believe smart leaders should never delegate. Please use the comment box to add the items you’d include on your list!
Here’s how I’d rank them:
1. Talent management should always be one of your top priorities.Whether your team consists of just a handful of workers, a full division, or the whole company, you’re responsible for getting the right people in the right places. Take a hands-on approach to recruiting and selecting new hires, especially those for crucial positions. Once you have someone on board, continue to mold and shape them with training, team culture, motivation, and any other tools at hand to ensure they fit as seamlessly as possible into the team. You’ll find this an endless process, especially as your team evolves to match changes in the industry and emerging trends you can barely see.
2. Mission, vision, and core values also help you shape the team.While you may be part of a larger organization that has already set these guidelines, you still have to make sure everyone knows what they are, how to apply to them, and how to shape their productivity in the right direction. You don’t have to harp on them, but do keep them in mind and adjust course as often as necessary.
3. Praise and incentives. If you asked 100 workers what they wanted more of at work, many would say more money—but not all. Praise, and the knowledge that leadership is taking notice of achievements, works surprisingly well toward encouraging discretionary input and employee engagement. Don’t over-praise, but don’t hold back when it’s justified and don’t hesitate to add other incentives if you need to.
4. Discipline. Remember the old Cheers episode where Norm was appointed the Corporate Axe, the guy tasked with firing long-term employees? He got the job because his superiors lacked the guts to do it themselves. Don’t be like Norm’s bosses. If someone on your team fouls up, handle the task of disciplining them yourself. Be straight and upfront with them, whether putting them on a corrective action plan, suspending them, or firing them. I’ve heard of one fellow who had just relocated thousands of miles, whose boss left it for a middle-manager—not even the employee’s supervisor!—to fire him while the boss was on vacation. Not only was this tasteless, the company came close to being sued because of the way the boss handled the situation.
5. Succession training. No matter how healthy you are, someday you’ll either retire, die, leave the company, or suffer a long-term illness. It’s up to you to look over the field of candidates, decide who can take your place when you’ve gone, and actively mentor that person. Unless your company’s succession plan is written in stone or someone higher up fills the empty slots, find at least one go-getter and groom them to take over, just in case something happens to you.
Keep the Ball Rolling
While you may not directly do the work that generates the profit, leaders are the guiding hand that ensures those who do earn the profit work together in the most efficient way possible. You’re the driver of your group and the shaper of skills, attitudes, and culture that weld a group of individuals into a working team. Never forget your intangible responsibilities. You can delegate almost anything else, but these are foremost among the things that you do best to make your organization the most successful.