Inspiring Delegation: Give them the opportunity to say NO!


A recent client described part of our coaching session as learning an approach for Inspiring Delegation. I have not heard this aspect of leadership described this way before. I liked it!

Imagine you are leading a team, a virtual team with matrix reporting lines. Your purpose is to provide timely advice and services to clients in a complex and rapidly changing environment. You are an expert in your field. You are pulled in several directions from team members, peers, more senior colleagues and clients. Your workload is significant. You are keen to create development opportunities for your team members all of whom bring different gifts, talents and experience to the team. 

The challenge is letting go. 

The opportunity is Inspiring Delegation.

During our coaching conversation, my client thought for himself what good delegation looked like, based upon his own experience of being delegated to and included: 

  • Receiving a clear expectation of what was required. 
  • Being given the discretion in how to accomplish the task. 
  • Being given clear feedback on what worked well and could be even better. 

These are all essential elements of delegating effectively for sure. And what more might make it even better for an effective outcome? 

For delegation to be inspiring, we want the individual to have clarity of what is expected, the conditions of satisfaction and by when. And, most importantly we want individuals to say a big YES to the task or project. 

Here’s the thing. For someone to give a big YES, they need to be given the opportunity to say NO. Daunting as that sounds. 

So what can you do to generate a big YES? It takes care and attention in the way you make the request. It also requires appreciating the difference between responsibility and accountability. As you delegate the responsibility of the task or project to your team member, as the team leader, you remain accountable. This is not about micro-managing, checking in throughout. On the contrary, you want to give the responsibility to your team member for successful completion of the task to the satisfaction you stated generating a meaningful opportunity for your team member along the way. 

Here’s what it might sound like:

Step 1: Make a powerful request; the choice of language is important:

I have a request of you. I’d like you to produce a fee structure for our client.

Step 2: State the Conditions of Satisfaction:

This need be no more than 2 pages. Please consider the impact on the client sites based out of town and the impact of scaling up the team should that be a requirement. Please provide a statement of clarification in your structure. 

Step 3: By when:

I will need this by close of business on Friday.

Step 4: To gain a big YES, you need to offer an opportunity to say NO:

Is there any reason why you are unable to complete this?

The likely responses will be:

  • No problem, YES!
  • No, I cannot do that, I already have a huge workload for others in the department. 
  • I don’t know. Can I come back to you and let you know if I can do it by then?

Step 5: Support your team member

If the answer is NO. You will want to offer your support in helping them figure out what is in the way. Is it a capability or capacity issue? What would enable them re-prioritise so they can work on this? 

If the answer is I don’t know. Ask them to come back to you within a certain time frame either way and follow the above step.

Provide the team member an opportunity to check in with you if they need support. In this way, you don’t have to check in on them. Rather, delegating the responsibility to them requires really letting go and trusting in them. Let them know you’ll look forward to receiving the outcome by the date you specified unless you hear otherwise. Clear. Crystal clear. 

Step 6: Ask for and provide feedback

On completion of the delegated task or project, first, ask for feedback on the part you played. Then offer them feedback on what worked well and what could be even better to help grow their skills and experiences. Ensure your feedback focuses on the specific task/project, specific behaviour you saw or heard and the impact it had upon the success of the outcome. 

As with any new skill or way of behaving it takes time to make it your own and refine it. 

And now you want to know how did it work out for my client? Right?

Wellish! The task was completed on time, created a stretch for the team member, although the outcome produced more information than requested, which led to additional work to refine the fee structure for the client.

The learning? How to refine the conditions of satisfaction. Learning that other stakeholders wanted to contribute and the need to deal with variety of inputs.

The feedback? A gift. For both my client and his team member in refining the art of inspiring delegation and celebrating what worked well, the opportunity, the learning and what could be even better.

What questions or reflections do you have about Inspiring Delegation?

If you enjoyed this article on Inspiring Delegation, and want to discover more about developing your leadership get in touch with me.

Thanks for reading!


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