Five Tips On How To Delegate Without Authority
There are lots of reasons not to delegate: it’s just easier to do it yourself, you can do it better, you can do it faster, or (the classic) it takes longer to explain than to DIY.
And even if you think you are the low woman on the totem pole, I think delegation is more of a philosophy – not necessarily an act of management. Delegation can be sending your clothes to the dry cleaners because you know you don’t have the equipment to do it yourself.
The irony is that delegating does not get any easier with so-called authority. Just because people report to you doesn’t mean that they necessarily respect you or give you the authority you deserve.
Identify What Would Really Help You
Delegation is a spectrum. If you’re a first-time manager, delegate something small since you will naturally have some resistance to giving other people work: sometimes guilt, uncertainty, or lack of trust. It’s only human.
Maybe it’s a regular report that you were once excited about pulling together, but today just takes time one top of your other new responsibilities. In other words, a clearly defined task works best.
Ask yourself these questions:
1. How long does this normally take me?
2. If it comes back with errors, do I have enough time to fix it?
3. What’s the worst that could happen?
Keep the stakes low. Think about assignments that require lots of time that are, in the wider scheme of things, not that important. Let’s be honest: corporate lives are riddled with things like this. We can at least share the burden and practice delegating.
As you move up the food chain, there is more room to delegate “scope” which can mean areas of work instead of individual tasks. I would advise not jumping the gun though.
To delegate is to entrust. And to entrust means to put in someone’s care or protection. Not everybody at work is capable or wants this responsibility. Or is honest with themselves to know the difference. All of which does not mean they could in the future.
Your challenge is to suss that out by understand a potential help’s time, style, and skills.
The fear of not getting something done after giving it away is real. There is a reason why trust is one of the most difficult traits to cultivate. That’s why I advocate starting small. Give an easy task that is rote to you, but new to someone else who is enthusiastic about learning. This way when it comes back, you’ll be able to spot any oversights immediately.
Now let’s say you don’t have anybody working under you. This is where it helps to be as social as possible around the office. I would not consider myself a social butterfly, yet I still try. There was a game night recently at Grand Central Tech where I met a handful of other entrepreneurs. Best of all, we didn’t talk about work.
I know if I tapped any one of them on the shoulder today, they would at least listen. They have actually. When you show up, others will naturally show up for you.
Ask With Care
Especially if you are not blessed with authority, asking nicely for support is key. Give context. Make people laugh and they will appreciate your honesty.
Also, do yourself a favor and ask in person. Yes, you will feel awkward when they say no, but it beats waiting awkwardly for a passive aggressive email that is sitting as a draft in their outbox.
“I am underwater working on this year’s budget presentation. I remember one time you asked about our international licensing deals. Any chance you would be interested in helping pinch hit on this week’s report? Full disclosure, it’s not the most exciting data in the world – but gets sent around to XYZ…”
Assuming they say yes, express your gratitude and follow up with a short email with an example and key dates/milestones. Maintain a read on their composure – there is difference between a beleaguered yes and an enthusiastic one.
They are conscious that they don’t work for you so keep your kid gloves on. Don’t send long instructions. If any email is longer than 7 sentences, consider picking up the phone or scheduling a 15 minute check-in.
By this point, you have already filtered the assignment as not necessarily high stakes so that should give you room to take a breath with your extra time and appreciate their help.
Recess Labs has a regular practice called The Reciprocity Ring. We go around the room giving a quick update followed by a request for help – technical, professional, or personal. Anybody who can help raises their hand out of their own free will.
If you don’t have authority, the traditional advice to “give credit” is not really an option. So I would recommend giving reciprocity. They have already agreed to help you, so see what’s been keeping them up at night.
For example, a friend of mind had the firm’s receptionist pick up her line and “act like her assistant” to impress investors. Later, she helped craft the receptionist’s social media strategy for her side hustle.
My understanding is that it wasn’t an agreement or transaction, but a natural result of understanding each other’s needs and supporting one another. #TRUST
“When in doubt, mumble; when in trouble, delegate; when in charge, ponder.”
-James Boren, humorist and businessman