Hack #4
The Right and The Wrong Way to Delegate

What is this Extreme Hack? It’s the right way to delegate so that the job gets done on time and up to the desired standard, while you take care of strategic matters.

Who is this Extreme Hack for? This is for anyone who is in a leadership position with one or more employees.

5 Problems this Extreme Hack Solved for Me

  • Missed deadlines by employees and partners
  • Poor quality results
  • Endless questions from my employees
  • Lack of predictability
  • Micromanaging delegated tasks

The first horror movie I ever directed

My first leadership experience had all the prerequisites of a horror movie.

My crew was running around like a bunch of chickens with their heads cut off, I was more tired than a zombie and the project’s cashflow was a nightmare.

At 20 years old, I had taken over an international conference from the previous guy who had quit. At the time, I had no idea what a painful experience was just ahead of me.

The leadership takeover was virtually non-existent, so I ended up with a team that I didn’t choose, with people being demotivated by the sudden departure of their beloved leader and with project milestones being completely missed.

The conference was supposed to accommodate 120 leaders from 13 countries, so the stakes were high.

At the time, I thought that a great leader was one who works the most, leads by example and sacrifices himself for the benefit of the project.

Boy, was I wrong…

Looking back, I made almost all the possible mistakes a leader can make with his team and with a project.

I really learned a lot, but it hurt like hell…

Fifteen years later, I would do things entirely different, of course. To this day, that experience is still very much alive in my memory as it really opened my eyes as to how “not” to do things.

Interestingly enough, the one thing that would have made things much, much easier then, is the ability to delegate in a structured form.

If I would have taken the time to sit down with every member of my 28-person team and had a proper delegation contract, completing that project would have been a breeze.

This is why I consider the ability to properly delegate one of the most (if not “the” most) important ability that a leader has to master. Productivity wise, having honing this skill can mean the difference between having a high-performing company or going bankrupt. If you avoid upgrading this skill, you’ll surely be overworked, underpaid and highly frustrated.

The Science Behind This Hack

Write down this quote: “without learning how to delegate the right way, burnout is inevitable.”

Mastering the science of delegation is about making those at the receiving end of a task feel ownership. Without a full transfer of ownership of the outcome, there is no delegation process.

The quickest way to make them feel ownership is to help them become crystal clear about the outcome, the deadlines and the consequences. And the best way to own the entire process is to make sure it is assumed by those who are delegated to. That is because we are more responsive to the voice in our own head… than the voice of other people.

So, follow the system below and assist your employees to take full responsibility of the process and then get out of their way! (see also the “What to Avoid” section)

How Does It Work?

100% responsibility for only one person – The person to whom you delegate something must know that he has 100% responsibility for the result of the delegated task. It is not the responsibility of those he works with. As a result, apologies such as “I didn’t do that because John from marketing didn’t give me the design in time” will not work.

Clarify the result and write it down – Yes, I know you know it, you find this in many management books, but I want to say it again just to be sure. Clarify with your employee what would be the concrete, visible result of the task. When you arrive at a clear understanding of that result, tell the person to write it down, and also write it down yourself.

Ask for a deadline – Yes, I said it right – ask, not give! Ask the person when the task will be complete. And then ask: why is it going to take you so much time? Then ask: can you do it faster? Then ask: how could you do it in half the time? This way you assure yourself that the deadline is right and at the same time, the other person is responsible because you didn’t give him the deadline, he assumed responsibility for the deadline.

Write down the deadline – In front of the person, take out your planner or your delegation template and write it down. This way, you make the person more responsible because he knows that you also wrote down the deadline and now it’s real. If you are not face-to-face and you are talking on the phone, tell that person: “Wait a sec, because I want to write the deadline down”.

Ask about the consequences – Again, ask, don’t tell! People are much more open to respecting what they came up with on their own, instead of what other people tell them. Afterwards, ask the next question: do you take 100% responsibility for the deadline you gave me? The obvious answer will be “yes”. Then ask: now tell me what the consequence will be if you don’t respect this deadline? If he doesn’t know, give him some options like: 10% salary cut, working overtime, and so on (even though I don’t agree with employees working overtime).

Write down the consequences – The same thing you did for deadlines. When the person sees that you are writing down the consequences, it will increase his level of personal responsibility, knowing that he has agreed to the consequence.

Schedule the next appointment – Write down the date and time of your next meeting to discuss the result of the delegated task. Even if that meeting will be only 5 minutes long, it is really important for the successful completion of the delegated task. That person will need to meet with you in person and see the planner or template where you wrote down the deadline and consequences.

The Wrong Way

  • Tell the person how to do his job
  • Many entrepreneurs and managers have a compulsion to explain to the experts how to do their jobs. And the experts hate this habit. Don’t fall into the trap of believing that you know how to do their job better. If you do know better, then you hired the wrong person.
  • Being too available
  • Most new-age entrepreneurs have the tendency of overhelping their people. This is a good thing, but I think that in some cases, helping is taken to the extreme. More precisely, if the person you delegated the task to calls you or emails you 3 times a day to ask about the delegated task, then that is really unproductive. Tell your people that if they have questions, to send them in one email per day. They don’t get to call you. Why is that? Because if the problem is really important, they will call you. But most of the time, the problems aren’t that important or time sensitive, and they can solve them on their own.

  • Making it personal
  • Don’t assign work to employees on a personal level. Don’t use phrases like “do this for me, I need to ask you a favor, this is important for me,” or anything like this. I don’t want to hit you over the head with this, but keep this in mind: as long as that person is paid for their time and he does what he loves, then he is not doing you any favours. I don’t want to be mean, but if you don’t take this suggestion seriously, you’ll reach a point when you have a lot of people who have done a lot of favours for you that you’ll have to repay in some way, and that’s not good for anybody.
  • Forgive
  • I’m not telling you to get mad at the person when he misses a deadline (again don’t take it personally) but what I want to say is if you agreed to some consequences, then stick to them. Because otherwise, you risk that your employees will not take your deadlines and consequences seriously. For example, one time an employee came to me and said that he couldn’t do the task on time because a person in his family had died. This kind of situation will push you to the limit and probably will make you break your own rules. What I did in that case, was to cut the employee’s salary 50% (as we had agreed to as a consequences, previously) and then I gave him a bonus of 100% to cover the funeral arrangements.
  • Fail to deliver on your promises
  • Keep 100% of your promises that you make to your employees and maybe they will do the same. Keep 90% of your promises and your employees will keep less than 50%.
  • Fail to follow these rules every time
  • It’s like saying that you have read too many books and you don’t need to read anymore. Keep in mind that this is more important for your employees than it is for yourself.
  • Fail to follow the template for small tasks
  • Do you know how small tasks become big tasks? When you don’t delegate them properly. If the task comes back to you done poorly or late, then that task will require double or triple the resources it needed in the first place.
  • Change the rules because your employees don’t like it at first
  • Nobody likes deadlines and consequences. If you are a leader, you have to live with that. Your job is not to be liked by your employees all the time, your job is to make your clients happy and push your employees past the limits they set for themselves. This is not an easy job, because if it were, everyone would do it.

This Hack’s Template

Print out 50 copies of this template and have them handy in your office. Every time you have to delegate a task, use one of them. This way you will make sure that each of your delegated tasks will be finished in time and without headaches.

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Download this Hack's Template

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