Advice from a recovering control freak

Recently, I overheard several people lamenting that they were not better delegators. As a recovering control-freak, I can assure you that good delegators are not necessarily born – they are developed. And I guarantee that you, too, can become more proficient in this important skill.

Imagine how much more you could accomplish if you could really get other people to do what you wanted them to do. And how stress-free your life would seem if your kids actually did things that you asked, like cleaning their rooms! Most of us have had the experience of asking/telling/demanding that others do something, only to be disappointed that the task was not done, or not done to our satisfaction. So we decide that we don’t know how to delegate, and we do it ourselves.

The truth is that most people want to feel accomplished, and they welcome the opportunity to be successful.

So, the most important principle in delegating is to set the person up to achieve success. Try following these steps to effective delegation and see if you don’t lighten your load.

1. Clearly define the task – make sure that the person knows exactly what you want them to do. Be specific. Ask for their interpretation of the job so you know if you have the same vision or not.
2. If it’s possible to assign various tasks to different people, find out who is most interested in each one. Allowing people to work on projects in which they are genuinely interested improves the chance of success, especially if they have certain skills or experience to contribute.
3. Discuss what knowledge, skills and equipment are needed for the task, and assess whether the person has them.
4. Determine what other resources are needed – people, equipment, access, technology, etc. and facilitate that.
5. Describe the outcome you are expecting – exactly what will it look like when it’s completed to your satisfaction? Again, be very specific.
6. Specify when the task needs to be completed and how you are to know it’s finished.
7. Outline the consequences – if it is completed by that date, and if it is not. This usually includes some reference to the goal of the task – its importance and relevance.
8. Ask for any final questions or considerations.

At first, following these steps may feel awkward or unnatural – but didn’t it feel that way the first few times you examined a patient? Delegation is a skill that must be practiced to gain competency. Try delegating something every day for a while. See how easy and natural it becomes. And then take a few minutes to decide what enjoyable things you will do with the time that you just freed up for yourself by not giving in to your old habit of doing everything yourself.

About Helane Fronek

Over the past 28 years I have had a fascinating and fulfilling career in medicine, initially practicing as a general internist and then as a procedural specialist, caring for patients with vein disorders. As Assistant Clinical Professor of Medicine at UC- San Diego School of Medicine, I’m thrilled to be teaching medical students crucial communication skills along with many other aspects involved in the practice of medicine.
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