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I believe that delegation is one of the most important and most valuable tools in an entrepreneur’s arsenal. It’s a skill set that rarely sees active development, and one that often takes a backseat to other forms of skill development.
This is partially because most entrepreneurs are driven to take a hands-on approach. Business-minded people tend to be highly ambitious, with lots of energy they can funnel into their projects. Accordingly, they’d rather do work themselves than delegate that work to other people. And those who do delegate regularly often do so as a kind of afterthought — a strategy of last resort, thrown together at the last second to solve a tough problem.
Already, you can begin to see why entrepreneurs are notoriously bad at delegating. But what steps can you take to improve your delegation abilities?
Why delegation is so important
You might be wondering why delegation is so important in the first place. After all, if you’re running a small business, you might be perfectly capable of handling most of the work by yourself.
For starters, the most important benefit of delegation is its ability to keep your focus on the items that matter most. If you’re spending time, energy and attention on a project that could easily be handled by an entry-level employee, you’re not spending time, energy and attention on a more important project that only you can handle. Delegation exists to help you maintain focus on your top priorities.
Delegation is also about time and economic efficiency. If you’re making the equivalent of $100 per hour, why should you spend an hour on a task that a virtual assistant could handle at a rate of $15 per hour? When you lay it out objectively, the solution is obvious. Granted, outsourcing some types of work can be expensive — but even in that scenario, you’re probably getting your money’s worth because you’re working with highly skilled professionals.
Finally, delegation is important because it gives you room to scale. You might be able to handle all the work generated by your small business today, but what about a month from now? A year from now? The sooner you learn to delegate, the sooner you’ll be able to start expanding properly.
Where most entrepreneurs fail
So why do most entrepreneurs fail when it comes to delegation?
These are some of the main reasons:
- They don’t delegate unless absolutely necessary. First, some entrepreneurs simply don’t delegate unless it becomes absolutely necessary. This is problematic for a few reasons. For starters, it means you never see the full benefits of delegation, because you reserve it for a small handful of occasions. It also means when you’re delegating, you’re usually in panic mode, unable to think through your options clearly.
- They see delegation as a short-term strategy. Many entrepreneurs see delegation as a kind of short-term strategy. They see it as an immediate solution to an urgent problem. Instead, it’s much better to see delegation as a long-term strategy. This is a skill and an investment that you can use to improve your efficiency and operational capacity over time. Your first few attempts at delegating might actually cost you time and money, but if you remain persistent and keep improving, eventually this strategy will work in your favor.
- They provide minimal or ambiguous instructions. One of the easiest ways for a delegation attempt to fail is the provision of minimal or ambiguous instructions. As the assignor, it’s your job to make sure the assignee understands their responsibilities in full. If you simply send an email with an attachment and no subject or body content, your recipient may not know what you want them to do. Spend some extra time to write clear instructions, and you’ll end up with much better results.
- They choose the wrong people. The right people will be able to make delegation much more reliable and effective. Choose people for the right tasks based on their individual strengths and weaknesses. It’s also a good idea to build a network of specialists, even within your organization; delegate the same types of tasks to the same people to improve their proficiency and make your system run smoother.
- They trust and forget. Sometimes, entrepreneurs delegate a task and immediately check it off their list. They trust their assignee to handle things and forget about it. This is problematic; you need some kind of verification system in place. That could mean following up after a certain period of time, getting a notification when the task is complete or some other system of your choosing.
Are you ready to become a better delegator? Like any skill, delegation is something that takes active work and practice to achieve proficiency. Start by delegating small tasks to people you already trust, and try to improve your approach each time you delegate something new.
Originally appeared in Entrepreneur