Strategy, development & support for coalitions, associations, organizations and initiatives

Find Your Work, Delegate the Rest

Find Your Work, Delegate the Rest

by Carol Johnson





It is a word that often summons up a feeling of overload in the mind of a nonprofit Executive Director (ED), especially an ED of a smaller nonprofit. We know we should delegate more, but…

  • There is no one to delegate to.
  • By the time I delegate it, I could have done it myself.
  • My employees are already so over worked.
  • I will lose control of the results.

The excuses flood our mind. In our defense, if delegation was not so complicated, we already would have done it.

Yet, the fact remains that we need to delegate more. There are just too many competing demands upon our time. How can we free ourselves to do the things we need to do, we love to do, or we are really good at doing?

Let’s back up and look at what delegation is. According to Peter Drucker, “delegation as it is used is often a misnomer.  You should not delegate ‘your work’. You should delegate work that does not belong with you so you have more time to do your work more effectively.”

This begs the question, what is your work? While your job description is a never ending list of responsibilities, much of the time we get caught up in doing a never ending list of tasks. Is that really what our work should be?

John Heller recommends that in an ideal week, the excellent leader spends 60% of their time thinking and only 40% on operational activities. Are you anywhere close to that? When I was an Executive Director, I know I was not! Delegation can free us from those operational activities so we have time more time to think. But first we need to overcome these common excuses that keep us from delegating:

1. There is no one to delegate to.
This is often the excuse of an ED in a small organization, with a small paid staff. And while there may not be paid staff to delegate some of the tasks to, can we broaden our universe of people to delegate to? What about Board members? Can a Board member chair a strategic planning task force, to take the operational details away from you? Is there a volunteer who has expertise in a functional area, like employee benefits, that might be able to assist with gathering options for you. You met someone at a cocktail party that has expertise you need. Could you reach out? It may be an excellent way to bring a new person into your organization.

2. My staff is already too busy.
Most people do not ask for more work. When it is assigned, their emotional reaction is not positive. If you tend to be really sensitive to emotional cues, you might read this reaction as an indicator that the person does not have time. Maybe so, maybe not. Probe your employee regarding the reaction you sense as the reaction to find the true reason. Or ignore it for few days, while the staff member processes their emotions. The resistance may disappear.

Remember that your staff may also be challenged by delegation.  They may be doing things they don’t need to do, and need to delegate them, in order to make time for this project. Sometimes we assume that people are too busy but when staff are assigned a new task or challenge that fits with their interests, they become energized. The project increases their job satisfaction.

3. By the time I delegate it, I could have done it myself.
For those of us who like to get tasks finished, this is a common one. While this may be true in the simple economy of today’s tasks, in the broader time management arena this reasoning can be deadly. For many tasks are not done simply one time. They must be repeated. If there is any chance the task will need to be done on a recurring basis, think about delegating it. The ancillary benefits of delegation are that you are training the staff below you. Depending on your strengths and the strengths, they may be able to do the task easier or quicker; you will save time in the future.

4. I will lose control of the results.
There is a difference between losing control of the process and losing control of the results. If the task is properly defined, with measurable final outcomes and milestones along the way, you will not lost control of the results. However, the person you delegate the project to my not do it in exactly the same way you would. And you don’t want them to! They have different strengths than you do. They will utilize those strengths with differing behaviors, in order to most effectively reach the same outcome. Excellence does not require that individuals use exactly the same behaviors to get the same results. Excellence requires people to use their own strengths in the most effective way possible.

For example, you might be very comfortable in calling meetings to get projects started. However, a subordinate might operate more effectively by working one on one with each person who will be involved. It is the outcome, not the process that is important.

Delegating is a complicated skill that not all of us have a natural talent for. However, if we rethink some of the common excuses that keep us from delegating, we may be more successful at delegating. This will free us up for more higher level thinking, which will enable us to be more successful at our job.

Woollard Nichols and Associates can help you identify your own strengths, the strengths of your Board members and those of your staff in order to help you delegate more effectively. Contact us to discuss!