Assigning And Delegating Aren’t The Same Thing – Here’s The Difference

Mastering the skill of delegation is critical to your career.  In the past, on the WLF blog, we’ve addressed certain obstacles that get in the way of successful delegation.

Today we’re focusing on another delegation challenge: the practice of assigning work under the guise of delegation. 

Both assignment and delegation have the same short-term result: the work gets done. But throw even the smallest wrench into the works (unexpected changes, unanticipated crisis) – and an assigned task becomes a boomerang that lands back in your lap. A delegated task, on the other hand, becomes a positive challenge for your team – at work or at home – to stretch, grow, and achieve optimal results. The critical distinction is that assignment is task-oriented, while delegation is results-oriented.

As with many things we discuss in WLF, effective delegation begins with cultivating the right mindset. A good leader effectively assigns work to improve their productivity now. A great leader effectively delegates challenging work and responsibilities as a learning and motivating opportunity to improve long-term productivity. Remember the success of the people who work for you is your success.

This month, practice these skills to master delegation:

Tend to the person (or team) – not to the task. Understand your own role as leader; be clear, kind and direct. Step into this role by leading by example, enabling (empowering) and setting the people who work for you up for success (at work and at home).

Know what YOU want. If you can’t visualize success, how can they? Before giving instructions, take a deep breath, center, and ask yourself what outcome will really make you happy. Be as specific as you can about your conditions of satisfaction. This might take an extra five minutes in the moment, but could save hours on the other end, not to mention added stress and disappointment.

Know what THEY want. Understand motivating – and demotivating – factors by recalling your own experiences of performing delegated work, and seeing your team members as “collective individuals.” Remember that many team members are motivated by having the autonomy to deliver results in their own way and by understanding how they are contributing to a larger goal. The better you understand the person to whom you are delegating (both “hard skills” capabilities and “soft skills” individual drivers), the better you can lay out a framework for mutual success.

Flex your behavioral style. What you do and say – and how you do and say it – matters (a lot). You have all taken the DiSC assessment. Pull it out, brush it off, and refamiliarize yourself with the your own natural style and the style of others – particularly under stress. If your team members have not completed the assessment, take a guess at their style and experiment flexing your style to make help make them more successful. Just remember not to “box in” anyone.

Be clear, specific, and complete. During busy times, it can be tempting to drive straight into the task and move on. However, spending a few extra minutes on big-picture context, expectations, and process not only minimizes risky guesswork, but also can help align and motivate team members.  To know whether you’ve been clear and specific enough, ask whether the team member you’re addressing knows answers to the following:

– How the task supports a bigger challenge or client/firm success?
– What are the expectations and success metrics?
– What are the deadlines: internal and external?
– What is the appropriate level of initiative / authority they should be using?
– Accountability: How and when to check in or ask for help?

Try to meet face-to-face (in person or virtually). E-mail serves a purpose, but especially at the beginning of a new assignment (or delegation relationship), interactive meetings are essential to build trust and provide additional insight through non-verbal cues. It’s helpful to summarize the meeting with a memo/email to ensure clarity and alignment – in fact, this can be the first item you delegate!

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