03 Feb Delegate, but do it the right way!
I was pretty excited to start the new shift. Sure, it was graveyards, but I was a fairly new sergeant, and I knew the patrol team was full of hard-charging young officers who were eager to work. A dramatic turn from the day shift malaise I had just come. These young cops were chomping at the bit to get out there and arrest the drunk drivers, the dope dealers, the car burglars and the armed gang members… typical fare for a graveyard shift.
The first night, immediately following briefing, my Lieutenant called me into the watch commander’s office and asked me to shut the door.
Uh oh…what did I do? The shift just started…I cannot be in trouble yet, can I?
“Charlie, I am so glad we get to work together this shift” the lieutenant started in a very magnanimous tone.
“Me too, L.T….we have a great group of officers. Hungry to do good work! It should be a lot of fun and I plan on being out in the field with them as much as possible.”
“Well, don’t get too excited there, kid!” exclaimed the boss as he sat back in the creaking office chair, that was struggling to hold his weight.”
He picked up the receiver from the watch commander phone, held it up for me to see and said “Do you see this Charlie? Do you know what this is?”
“Uhhh, yes Lieutenant…it’s a phone” as I am thinking this is some type of test or trick question.
“Correct! It is not just a phone. It is the watch commander line. I am the watch commander and this is essentially my job for the next six months. Which means that you are responsible for everything else.”
“Everything else?” I queried with a little hesitation in my voice.
“Yes, you will also be handling all of the report review, the payroll, and any and all staff reports that I get assigned from the Captain.”
“And do you know why you will be doing all of these things Charlie?”
I was biting my tongue so hard I think I may have actually cut it.
“Because this is called ‘delegation’ and I am ‘developing you’ for the next step in your career”
I walked out of the office deflated and confused. Wasn’t I supposed to be out in the field with the officers? Not tied to a desk inside doing all of the work my lazy boss didn’t want to do.
I learned a valuable leadership lesson that day: there is a stark difference between proper delegation and dumping on your subordinates because you are lazy. This lieutenant had no idea what proper delegation was or the purpose of it. He simply wanted to do as little as possible. Like many lessons from “bad leaders”, I stored that one in the “I will never do that” file.
Proper delegation actually takes a little bit of work and thoughtfulness on the part of the leader. If you truly want to develop the people in your charge, then delegation of certain assignments can be a powerful tool, if done properly. Here are three quick tips on how to delegate properly:
Delegate worthy assignments
The delegated assignment should be something that pulls for the strengths of the employee and stretches them a bit. It should be meaningful work that can have an impact on the work environment and/or prepare them for assignments they may be responsible for at the next level. Avoid delegating the mundane, repetitive tasks that really do not push the employee out of their comfort zone and help them to grow.
Spread the wealth
Oftentimes, leaders will delegate their assignments to their “go-to” employee. “I always give her the assignments because I know she will do it right the first time, get it done on time and not have to bother me with a million questions.” Have you ever fallen into this trap? I know I have. It is a natural default position for many leaders. If I give it to this other employee, I am not sure it will get done right, I may need to be more involved in the process, etc. That is exactly the point. You should be bringing those other employees up and giving them chances to prove themselves as well. This will also eliminate the favoritism accusations that often exist in our organizations.
Stay engaged in the process, don’t dump and run
When you delegate an assignment, sit down with the employee and take some time to go over the assignment in detail, let them know your expectations and make them very clear. Provide them samples of prior work to give them a reference point. Make yourself available throughout the process should they have any questions along the way. Yes, this takes more time and effort, but it is the right thing to do and in the long run, it will pay dividends not only for you but also for the employees in which you are giving your trust.
Delegation is a must when it comes to proper time management and developing your employees. If done thoughtfully, it can be an incredibly powerful tool to make you more efficient and effective as a leader.
Stay safe out there!