Too often this means distributing routine tasks so we can focus on bigger projects. But that’s not delegating — that’s unloading busywork. Delegation should be strategic. If you’re not taking advantage of employees’ skills, perspectives, and interests, you’re missing opportunities to build your team and your business.
A 2013 survey reported 53% of business owners believe delegating would grow their business over 20% — yet less than 15% say they already assign everything they should. We know delegating helps our bottom line, but we’re stuck on how to do it well.
According to the book Lincoln on Leadership, Abraham Lincoln’s delegation strategy included three main concepts: persuade, support, encourage. Although much has changed since the 1860s (indoor plumbing for one!), his effective techniques serve as the following timeless lessons for us all.
1. Persuade Through Shared Vision.
William Seward, Secretary of State, believed Lincoln was “totally unqualified and incompetent.” Undeterred, Lincoln earned Seward’s respect. They visited troops, discussed strategies, and shared patriotic vision. Lincoln convinced Seward they shared values, and then fully tasked international diplomacy to demonstrate trust in Seward.
Effective delegation converted Seward from adversary to advocate. Convinced of Lincoln’s wisdom, Seward created diplomatic strategies rooted in their shared vision, successfully preventing foreign powers from supporting the Confederacy.
Takeaway: Establish common goals and personal interest.
Openly discuss project goals to get everyone on the same page. Painting a complete picture helps your team make decisions without needing your input, giving them a sense of ownership. Then show your teammates that you’re delegating assignments to them for a reason: based on their experience, skills, and interests. Demonstrating faith in their abilities inspires their best efforts — and encourages innovation.
2. Support Their Efforts.
Early on, Lincoln struggled to find generals willing to take charge. He knew he couldn’t perform presidential duties if every minute was focused on battle strategies. Lincoln needed someone with experience to lead the Union army.
In Ulysses S. Grant, Lincoln found someone he could delegate to, and he offered his complete support. “If there is anything wanting within my power to give, do not fail to let me know it,” he wrote. Lincoln’s support enabled Grant to make urgent decisions crucial for victory.
Takeaway: Give employees resources — and room — to succeed.
Without micromanaging — which kills trust and hinders productivity — make yourself available to help out. Don’t dump difficult assignments on employees and leave them high and dry without any sort of guidance. Ensure your team has the necessary tools they need to get the job done properly. Provide metrics to measure progress and offer examples and templates to work from – even small offerings like books show support and help teams succeed.
3. Encourage Improvement.
When Lincoln appointed Joseph Hooker as army commander, Hooker was arrogant and ambitious. In a letter to Hooker, Lincoln recognizing his strengths and flaws, concluding, “Beware of rashness, but with energy and vigilance, go forward, and give us victories.” Lincoln brought out the best in Hooker, encouraging his growth into a true military leader.
Hooker was deeply affected, saying it was “just such a letter as a father might write to his son.” He became committed to serving his men, reviving morale by improving meals, revamping furloughs, and designing drills to instill unit pride.
Takeaway: Professional development benefits individuals and teams.
Encourage progress by showing interest in your team’s growth. Employees who feel they’re being recognized for their efforts are more invested in their work. Plus, knowledgeable, confident workers that are in tune with organizational goals can make essential decisions that add value to your business. A simple way to encourage staff is to share results, customer testimonials, and positive feedback from higher-ups. People are motivated by tangible, meaningful results of their work.
Don’t forget to keep delegating! Nothing says, “Job well done,” like trusting workers with meaningful follow-up projects.
Delegation lets you focus on the future and on finding high-value projects to boost your career and business. You’ll be known as a valued manager who brings out the best in employees. Take a cue from Lincoln and use strategic delegation to grow from a manager into a genuine leader.
Emily Bonnie is a content marketing manager for Wrike, project management and social collaboration software that helps teams get more done. Download our “What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You More Productive” ebook for great tips on getting more done in life.