THE D WORD: IT’S OKAY TO THINK
DIFFERENTLY ABOUT DELEGATION
A powerful leadership tool, but a challenging one to leverage effectively
As a leader, when you delegate, you’re demonstrating a deep trust
in your team and providing opportunities
to expand their knowledge and their contributions in new ways … .
By Meg McKeen, CIC
As you’re reading this, we’re collectively navigating tricky insurance market conditions with fewer resources available—and those we do have are stretched thin.
One of the most powerful tools you do have as a leader today is delegation—but it’s one of the most challenging to leverage effectively. Considerate, strategic delegation can strengthen others’ trust and confidence in you, improve business outcomes, and create clearer alignment between you as a person and you as a leader.
No matter if you are a leader by title—you manage a team and there is a clear organizational hierarchy (think agency owner, sales manager, or underwriting manager), or you are working in a peer-to-peer, collaborative environment, where goals are shared and the delineation between roles is muddier (think producer and account manager or underwriter and assistant underwriter), how you delegate is nuanced, requires practice, and is something you don’t always get a second chance to get right.
Delegation—the act of transferring a task or function from you to the individual with the skills and capacity to best manage it—is a missed opportunity in most organizations today and is unnecessarily costing you and your organization money, time and energy.
You know you should but it’s so hard
It’s easier to do it myself.
It’s faster to do it myself.
If I want it done right, I must do it myself.
I’m the only one who can do it.
Chances are you’ve thought these things before—or even said them out loud. I totally have, and more recently than I care to admit! If you self-identify as a perfectionist, a people-pleaser, or goal-oriented, it’s likely you hold your work product close—it’s a direct reflection on you, your capabilities, and a source of pride.
But your desire for control may be shortchanging your team and organization.
As a leader, when you delegate, you’re demonstrating a deep trust in your team and providing opportunities to expand their knowledge and their contributions in new ways, which is important because clear career advancement opportunities and continuous learning continue to be top priorities for individuals advancing in the workforce today.
It’s also important to acknowledge that you simply can’t do it all. You are no longer an individual contributor and your role as a leader requires you to show up differently—as the coach, guide, and strategic thinker that your team needs you to be.
The do’s of delegating
As you practice conscientious and effective delegation in your day-to-day, know that there are best practices that you’ll want to consider:
- Do be forthcoming. No one likes to feel unfairly or unjustly burdened with more to do. If you’re going to ask a teammate to take on additional responsibility, don’t hide behind a forwarded email or stack of papers with a sticky note on top. This lacks context, and taking a moment to acknowledge the additional responsibility will strengthen the relationship instead of weakening it.
- Do practice gratitude. A seemingly simple “thank you, I see you, and I appreciate you,” can go a long way, as can a personalized note, gift card, or accolade shared at a team meeting. If you’re inclined to think “That’s their job. Why should they get rewarded for doing their job?”—resist it! Remember that people have feelings, and they are feeling those feelings while they’re doing their work.
- Do set expectations. What does success look like in this task or project? Make sure expectations and timelines are set clearly and, if asked for, offer support and feedback along the way. If you tend to “set it and forget it,” use tools like a reminder on your phone or email to create new habits of checking in.
- Do compensate when compensation is due. If you ask someone to expand their role, duties, or responsibilities by assuming some of yours or another’s, consider expanding their compensation, too.
- A note about optics: If you’re delegating to make your tee time or your nail appointment on time, or to scrape your desk clean before your next vacation, be thoughtful about your approach. As “the boss,” you’ve earned and are well within your right to make the rules, but if others feel like they’re working doubly hard for your personal benefit, the negative implications can be deep and wide within your organization.
When delegation doesn’t come easily
- If you’re new to your leadership role or are evaluating how you can start to leverage delegation in your day-to-day:
- Audit your time and tasks. What do you do that no one else in the organization can do? Then, what are you keeping because it’s easy or quick or because you enjoy it? Know that there’s no right answer here, but once you consider who in your organization—besides you—is best suited for these tasks, you might discover that the person isn’t in the most aligned seat right now, or that your next hire needs to have a title or function that hasn’t existed in your organization before. Be open to these shifts.
- Take imperfect action. Perhaps you’re not ready to let go of an entire initiative or project. Consider delegating specific portions that are measurable, and that, if necessary, can be course-corrected quickly.
- Seek accountability. If you struggle to delegate, consider creating accountability with another senior leader in your organization or within your wider professional network. It’s taken you an entire career to get here, and change won’t come overnight.
Meg McKeen, CIC, founded Adjunct Advisors LLC in 2018 with the simple belief that we can and must do more to support the individuals who choose a career in the insurance industry. Her experience working for more than two decades in underwriting, leadership, and sales within the industry fuels her work as a consultant today, in which Meg now holds space, at the crossroads of personal and professional development, for insurance professionals as they grow their sales and leadership acumen and organizations in the midst of cultural change. To learn more about private and small group coaching, moderation and facilitation services, event speaking engagements, and the podcast Meg hosts, Bound & DeterminedSM, head to www.adjunctadvisors.com.