If effective delegation were easy, I would have mastered it by now.  But it's not.  And how to delegate as an introvert involves an extra layer of complication.  You see, delegation is communication in disguise.  And that means it requires energy.  And doing it well requires even more energy.  So no, I haven't mastered the art of delegation yet.  But here's why I'm trying.

The hardest part of delegation is communicating well enough for another person to succeed.  I know what the tasks are and who would be good at performing them, but I want to communicate to others the way I'd want to be communicated to.

Delegation at its Worst

I don't want to be the kind of leader who communicates random tasks.  When done poorly, delegation looks like this:

"We need pastries on Thursday."

Umm...  I don't know what quantity to get, by when on Thursday, or whether the kind of pasty matters.  Even worse, I don't know why the task itself matters.  Is the boss planning on being hungry?  Are the pastries on sale on Thursday?  Are we having an event?  I'd likely grumble all the way to the bakery and back.

Effective Delegation

Effective delegation does not give a person a random task, but rather a role to play.  It gives the person enough information to be successful, without crossing into the realm of micromanagement.

Let's try again with the pastries.  I'd be much more happy to take care of them if I were told:

"On Thursday we have 4 prospective customers visiting the office at 10am.  I'd like them to feel welcome, so please make sure there are fresh pastries available in the conference room when they arrive.  One of the visitors has a nut allergy."

Ah!  Much better.  Now I get what we're doing, and I'm eager to help out.  I know how many people will be present, so I can estimate the quantities.  I know we're aiming for a welcoming environment, so I might take it upon myself to arrange the items nicely and tidy the surrounding area.  Thankfully the crucial nut allergy was mentioned to save us the embarrassment of having too few options.  In short, the second wording gives me something to be a part of.

How to Delegate

So what was the key difference between the two examples?  The communication style.  If I'm going to delegate something, I need to:

  • give a context for what we're doing.  I'm more invested when I know why something matters and whom it will impact.
  • state the logistics, including when the item is due and in what format.
  • describe the expected outcome.  I'm not going to tell someone how to do the task, but I want my team member to understand what the end goal looks like.
  • share any known resources.  There's no reason to make someone do something the hard way if I have a tool or information that will make the task easier or the outcome more successful.  This also minimizes errors and duplication going forward.
  • indicate the priority.  Unless the person is on stand-by, she will need to know how this item compares in priority to current work.

That's a lot of steps!  While none of these steps is particularly difficult, the effort required to communicate the task greatly increased.

How to Delegate as an Introvert

So how does delegation differ for introverts?  As an introvert I am constantly aware of the energy cost of different activities.  The mistake I've made countless times is to only measure the energy cost of doing the item against the energy cost of delegating the item.  I tend to skip the long-term calculation.

It's tempting to keep a lot of tasks for myself because the energy required to delegate effectively feels high.  But this is a flawed calculation because if I never delegate, the item will belong to me next time, the time after that, and so on.  Failure to delegate requires my energy each time the item arises.  So instead I should calculate how much energy will be saved in the future by equipping others to run with ball.

I want to give my team members space to grow.  That can't happen if I keep all the tasks for myself.