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Knowing when to delegate

A few days ago, I had an interesting conversation with a young entrepreneur who works with private jet owners. Private jet owners or users typically are wealthy business owners, entertainers or people who have "made it." What they all have in common, this young entreprenuer told me, is that they know how to use their time efficiently. (Which of course is why they aren't wasting time in airports waiting for their flight) 

You hear all this talk about how you have to delegate if you're going to grow your business, land the corner office or achieve work life balance. The truth is when you are the best at what you do, you know how to be efficient and that means you know when to delegate and are willing to give up some control.

We all know the excuses. How can you hand off a task when you're the only one who can do it right? People who figure out how know intuitively when they have to give up something less important to accomplish something of greater value.

DelegateAs a business writer, I've love to ask CEOs about how they approach their day. Do they start with a to-do list? How do they figure out what's a priority? And most importantly, what and when do they delegate? 

Here are a few lessons I've learned:

1. The more you delegate, the better you get at it.

2. Delegate when you think there's someone who can do a task better. 

If you're big picture and you have a task that's detail oriented, turn it over to someone whose skills match the task. For example, a shoe store owner I recently interviewed says was spending hours each week posting new pics of shoes on her store's Facebook page. She turned the task over to young employee who excels at keeping up with technology and has helped bring new customers with her creative display of shoes on the page.  Business owner Susan Payton points out,"It’s a hard thing to admit you’re not perfect in all aspects of your business, but the sooner you realize this, the happier you’ll be."

3. Delegate after you determine priorities. 

Will Fleming, CEO of Motionpoint, told me he does a daily inventory of urgent tasks and important tasks. The key, he says, is not to let the important tasks fall off your radar because they aren't urgent. Those are the tasks you might consider delegating. That means you spend enough time so they know all the relevant details: the project's purpose, customer pressures, deadlines, budgets.

4. Delegate when you can leverage the help and network you already have.

A key part of being great at what you do, is empowering others to hone their problem-solving skills. Look at the people around you. Is there someone capable and trustworthy doing a piece of a task that could take on the whole thing? One CEO I talked with told me he delegated the task of performance reviews to a manager who already supervised a small staff. "Most people try to live up to the trust they're shown," he said.The manager began weekly check ins, initiated a reward system and felt empowered.

5. Delegate when you are willing to share the credit.

I took on a huge writing project with a quick turn around time. Stress set in. I realized I couldn't get it done at the high quality level it needs to be done well unless I delegate some of the work to someone I trust to do it well. I learned that recognizing when you are comfortable sharing the credit for the bigger picture of getting the job done well is half the battle.

6. Delegate to better compete.

When you are in the thick of a task and it hits you that your time is better spent bringing in new business or looking for opportunities for growth, it's time to turn it over to someone who can do it in less time. 

7. Delegate when you are comfortable with people making some decisions different than those you'd make.

 Some decisions or approaches are just different — not wrong.

The one point I want to drive home here is that delegating makes you a leader. It can be risky but the best piece of advice I ever received on delegating came from the president of a museum who learned a lesson the hard way, "Never take back a task you've delegated."

Are you delegating when you should be?