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Leadership

Giving tasks to others – Delegating in depth

Reading time: 15:00 mins – this one is an in-depth article

Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, `and what is the use of a book,’ thought Alice `without pictures or conversation?

First paragraph of Alice In Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Let’s see the difference between how you and I imagined this paragraph.

In my head while reading I imagined two little girls sitting on the bank of a wide river. They were sitting on a shallow and empty sand field next to the Water. The sun was shining, and the air was dry and hot. There was a complete silence except for the sound of the wind and waves. Behind them after a couple of meters a higher, grassy ground level started. The book they were looking at was black, thick and leather bound with a worn cover and yellowish old pages with torn edges.

There is no chance you imagined it the same way.

You have pictured it accordingly to your fantasy and experiences. It probably also depended on your current mood, what pictures you saw last time in this topic, what you had for breakfast, and an infinite amount of other factors as well.

You might have also seen some of the movie adaptations of this book. Each of them is also different. It’s because they are other people’s imagination’s creation.

Of course movies are inherently different from books. They give you an exact picture of the scenery. (At least of the things within the frame)

Books don’t work this way, and that’s why we love them. There are no two readers who imagine a read story the same way.

In writing it is impossible to describe something up to 100% detail. So our minds fill in the gaps. This creative process makes reading so enjoyable.

The way you imagine what you read is yours and yours only. It is simply the best for you since it emerged from you, and it is the only possible good solution for you. We hold firmly onto to this image because it is our own creation.

If you imagined a newer paperback book and older, maybe teenage girls sitting in the shadow of some trees growing on a grassy bank of a tiny river, doesn’t mean your version is wrong.

Your mind just filled in the gaps in a different way than mine. Or anyone else’s on planet earth, for that matter.

The commonality between your and my version depends on what was and what was not given in the text. And the details we just discussed were not given in this paragraph.

This brings us to our main topic.

Like interpreting books, it is the same case with tasks we give to others. There is not a single good solution but many.

The less initial information is given the more correct ways to do and finish exist.

To DELEGATE
is to assign any task, responsibility or authority to another person
Eg.: “Charge these batteries”
“Have the make-up ready by 8:15”

We never expect someone else to imagine a book the same way we do, but we always demand others to imagine the execution of a task exactly the same way we have.

We usually give even less information than writers. Actually, authors do an amazing job in describing things to us.

But most of us are not writers, and even writers might not be as descriptive in their spoken conversations. Having to do these things in stressful moments doesn’t help us either. So, it seems like delegating is made difficult for us on purpose.

The “BEST” thing to do

In delegating scenarios frequently other people’s imagination bring up a better functional solution than ours. It’s natural since we all have different experiences behind us and various levels of them. Through this, we developed unique versions and combinations of logical, thinking, reasoning, problem-solving, etc. skills.

Our solution only feels like “the best” to us because the toolset, mental images, and experiences what we personally have naturally lead us to that particular solution.

We have an infinitely precise mental image of every small detail on how our way of the work-through would feel and look like. This is why when someone is not doing exactly what we have imagined, it feels wrong, fake or dumb. It doesn’t feel like our solution, and we have a spectacular sense for spotting that.

The most experienced leaders gather a team of people who are different from them. They know that they need to cover their blind-spots in solving problems. They know that they can’t possibly know everything and other people will come up with better solutions than theirs and/or will do it much faster. So they hire people to bring knowledge and experience aboard they didn’t have the chance to meet or master.

But for us, not-yet-great leaders there is a bad habit we usually apply. When someone’s “doing” is not matching our mental images 100%, we start to correct it to ease the itch in our brain. We start to “Micromanage”

to MICROMANAGE
to control, correct or comment on every step of a task you delegated. – It shows lack of trust
eg.: It’s what your mom does when you’re trying to cook next to her.

The aim of delegating a task or responsibility would be to get rid of the exercises that we don’t have time for. Although when we micromanage, we actually do more than we initially did.

We only have habits because they have rewards. The only reward micromanaging has, is that it scratches the aforementioned itch. It is the same itch you feel when you watch a movie adaptation of your favorite book. You didn’t imagine it this way and it is annoying.

But this is the only satisfying effect of micromanaging. Otherwise, it is demotivating and shows lack of respect. It has a disastrous effect on your team meanwhile ruining your schedule and depleting your energy as well.

Most people defend their micromanaging habit by saying: “If you want something done right, do it yourself.” or “I would let them do tasks but they are not doing them right”
These are not true. Maybe their employees just lack clear instructions, a piece of knowledge, or motivation.

We will cover the first two below, and when you do those right, your way of delegating will become motivating in itself.

If something does what it’s supposed to do, it doesn’t matter how it has been done exactly.

Your new role as a leader

Generally, when you are promoted it is usually because you were doing something in a great way. Your bosses want things to be done the great way you do work, but this time on a bigger scale. This would not be possible if you kept doing these task alone. So you are assigned a team.

From then on you still have to do what you did best, but you have a new task as well. To elevate it to a larger scale.

Since the length of 24 hours won’t change, your promotion won’t mean that you have more time. This means you can’t just simply do more of the work, the usual great way you always did.

As the leader, you have 2 fields to cover

There are things that are needed to be done exactly the way you imagined them. As we discussed this is why you were hired. Although not everything falls into this category.

This is only 50% of what you are now hired to do. You were assigned a team to do the other necessary things that can’t fit your schedule and don’t have to be done your way.

Delegating is also your task. You need to account time for it. You are not transmitting your thoughts telepathically.

When there are people working for you, then you were hired to lead these people, instead of doing their job. They are there to do the task for you, which otherwise couldn’t fit in your day. But it’s not automatic. It still requires effort from your side and this is the other 50% of your job. Delegating a task is not something effortless, it just requires less effort than doing these tasks yourself. This way you will have more time for the most important things.

Let’s see this in detail

The important things for you to do are the those that can only be done by you to have them your way. At the end, your employers are interested in your interpretation. This is especially true in artistic roles.

To have enough time and mental energy to focus on what only you can do, you have to let go most of the other tasks.

Think about it this way. You want to achieve bigger things than you were capable of alone. With a team, you will be able to, but in return, you have to let a lot of things go.

Measure what is possible to do in a given timeframe. During this time do the most important ones of those things that only you can do. Frequently, merely making the decisions will take up this whole time. But those major decisions have to be made by you personally.

Delegate all the rest. You won’t have time for those.

If something does what it’s supposed to do, it doesn’t matter how it has been done exactly.

If you let go a ton of unimportant tiny details, then you will have time and energy for the important big ones, the role you were hired for.

Transferring thoughts don’t happen by itself, you have to learn how to do it properly and precisely.

Keep in mind

Delegating is also your task. You need to account time for it. You are not transmitting your thoughts telepathically. Explaining your ideas will take time.
If you need more time to do this, delegate even more tasks.

The How

Now that we see how important it is to delegate if you want to achieve bigger things, let’s dive into the how-to.

The Who

  • Is it you who has to do it?
    The only person who can do things 100% your way is you. So you have to ask at each task:

    • “Does it really have to be done by me? My way?”
    • “Maybe just parts of it??”
    • “Not my job or doesn’t have to be my way?”
    • “Is someone better in it than me? Can someone do it quicker?”
    • “Can someone learn and gain experience from this task?”
  • When something has to be exactly your way, but it must be done by someone else,
    explain the reasons and thoughts behind it. This way your people can start learning your thinking patterns behind it. This way, next time their solution will be closer to yours.
  • Keep in mind:
    • Different colleagues will need different methods of delegating/knowledge transfer. (I will address this in a later article)
    • How much experience s/he has? Do you need to explain certain stuff or not? Both can be bad:
      • not to explain something when it’s needed
        or
      • to explain something when it’s not needed.
    • For how long have you been working together? Do you know each other’s logic?

The TASK

  • Give guidelines instead of details
    As the task: give the guidelines for what at the end the task should accomplish. Leave the method of completion to the person performing it.
  • Sate the expected quality-level of the result.
    At some tasks, it must be high (eg.: it will be highly visible on the screen)
    Or sometimes it doesn’t matter (eg.: the effect of the task will be tiny or not even on the image)
  • Expecting non-stop 100% performance is unreal.
    It is a mistake to expect no mistakes. It is an unnecessarily frustrating expectation that slows work down heavily.

Film industry is strongly infected by the misbelief of constant perfection. This is the reason why there are so many people trying hard to seem perfect while blaming every fault on others. Many people who always seem spotless in front of their employers are usually who never admit their faults and are really good at making things seem like other peoples mistakes.

There are also exceptionally professional individuals who rarely make mistakes and promptly admit their faults when they make them. It’s important to set them apart! They are the ones who should be truly admired.

Everyone makes mistakes. Evolution had only errors as the tool for developing species.
Making mistakes is an important part of the learning process as well. Without them, there is no real progress.

Mistakes can be fixed. Think about the solution when they happen. Don’t waste time, energy and morale on blaming people.

  • It is assigning responsibility
    So make responsibility-transfer really happen. Let the person be responsible for that task and let him know that. If he knows that it’s his job he will do it. Often a task is just hanging in the air, everyone thinking it is someone else’s job.

This way the assignee will also feel empowered and challenged to do the task. He will make great effort to come up with the best choices he can.

If something doesn’t work out, remember, you are still responsible for having assigned that task to that person with the given resources and the given time. You are also responsible for his success or failure, you are also to blame or be praised. Ask what you did wrong or why it worked out exceptionally well this time.

For example, if you gave initial information that can be interpreted multiple ways, only you made the mistake.
Or if you didn’t let them ask or didn’t check in during the work, then you officially gave them complete freedom. It is again only you who did that.

  • Delegate small things as well, that otherwise, you could do easily
    Usually, it is worth delegating very short tasks as well that otherwise you could do yourself in a sec. Because after explaining it a couple of times people will know how to do it your way. After a while, you won’t have to shift your attention from more important things. Regaining full focus takes time, so do everything to avoid losing it.

Think about the solution when mistakes happen. Don’t waste time, energy and morale on blaming people.

The TIME

  • Say the Deadline
    Time boundaries are the parts most frequently missing from delegated tasks. Make it a habit to always add the deadline to the end of your sentence when giving away tasks.
  • State the Priority
    Also, let the priority of the task be known. Tell what is important right now and what can be delayed.
  • Is he working on something currently?
    When you interrupt someone who is still working on a project, with a new task, you can run into trouble. We tend to jump into the next task right away, and frequently forget about the previous unfinished one.
    Of course, you will need to interrupt frequently, but there are things you can do to avoid to-dos evaporating.

    • Say which task is more important.
    • Suggest an order of execution.
    • Remind them to write the other task somewhere they will see.
    • Ask about the unfinished task later when it accidentally pops into your mind.
  • Provide resources
    For each task delegated you are the one responsible for providing the proper resources. Time, tools, permission, information. Ask if they need anything.
  • Ask for regular updates.
    This will calm both parties. You also have to let them ask questions while reporting to you. If you jump, grump, or criticize for asking “stupid” questions, they will never ask again about anything and that will cost you so much more time later.

The minimum check-in you have to do is at halftime. Ask if they see themselves finishing on time or need help/extra resources. Maybe they have some questions as well.

Be available for questions when appropriate.

  • Is it a one time or a recurring task?
    If it is recurring it might wort to invest more time initially.
    Get familiar with how we humans learn best and fastest.

There might be tasks that are really needed to be done your way. In these cases, basic familiarity with learning and teaching processes will also worth its weight in gold for you.

Later I will dedicate a separate article to this topic.

It is a mistake to expect no mistakes. It is an unnecessarily frustrating expectation that slows work down heavily.

GENERALLY

  • Don’t criticize
    Criticizing at halftime, or for that matter criticizing altogether is not working.
    It switches off every logical and learning function in the other person while instead switching on self-protection and self-justification regardless how right they are.
    (You can read more about this in my previous research)

You need to correct things when necessary, but avoid creating the feeling of “you being better than other people”. Just explain why you need the changes and apologize if you were not clear about it at the beginning. At the end, it might have been your mistake, but there is no time for looking for the fault. If you feel you were clear but still something went wrong, the next time you have a break, ask people where the communication went astray, and then learn from it.

  • Handle too many questions properly.
    You will also run into the problem of people asking too many questions. In these times there is a good advice one of our directing instructors told us back at the Uni.

He said if someone can’t make a decision and asks too much, he just asks back: “What do you think would be the best way to go?” Then miraculously a decision instantly emerges from the asker.

  • Ask.
    By the way, asking is generally a good technique. With it you can bring out the ingenuity of your team, and help both parties learn and understand more deeply.

When you ask, they stop experiencing the job as boring micromanaged wood chopping and start feeling refreshingly challenged instead.

There is a good book on this topic written for office work, but you can easily translate the tools for use in film-making environment as well.

  • Be aware of your own learning.
    In film industry your promotion to a higher rank, often means that you will be doing something completely new to you. This naturally leads to micromanaging the person who steps into your previous role. You have really clear mental images of how you have been doing that task. The next person will do it probably differently, and will make mistakes too, especially in the early stages. Meanwhile, you are also trying to learn something new. It is easy to get annoyed by this process and when we are frustrated we easily take it out on our employees. Mostly we do this by blaming them for every failure regardless of what happened in reality.

(If you want to know more about your frustration during learning something new, see this article)

  • Reward
    Think of all the tasks that were done for you. These enable you to do your job well.
    There is nothing more demoralizing than someone taking credit for your work.
    Even if it was just making a coffee.

Sometimes it is important for some political reasons to make it look like it is your work/thoughts/name etc. behind something. In these cases you can still refer to your team publicly, or can privately explain to your people the nature of the situation. Also you can thank and show your gratitude for their favor of lending you the credit.

If you get appraisal don’t keep it to yourself. Share it with the team and mention their efforts publicly. They are the ones enabling you to do your job well.

On the other hand, if you get complaints then keep them to yourself. Don’t blame your team, help them get better instead.


This is a long article,
yet it is merely scratching the surface of the topic. Delegating properly might seem now a needlessly long task and a waste of time to master. But doing it right will pay off immediately.

The benefits are hard to see because when it’s done right, everything just feels right and falls into place. You will never know how much time you would have wasted otherwise.

Also when it is not done well, you rarely see the real reason. Very often people are just blaming each other.
When it is not going well, both parties are frustrated:

  • One is thinking: Why is he not doing it right?
  • And the other is: Why doesn’t he let me work?

Those extra seconds, minutes, and hours to do this right seem needless. Although when your employees have had enough and stop being motivated to work for you, you will notice the time-loss.


Don’t wait for the other person to miraculously have the same reading as yours.
Transferring thoughts don’t happen by itself, you have to learn how to do it properly and precisely.

This article is far from being complete but is a good starting point to get familiar with this skill.

But don’t expect from yourself to do it perfectly for the first time. You will make mistakes and it will help you learn. Experiment with these solutions and keep them in your mind. It is also a great method to focus on one of these at a time until it sinks in.

In the beginning, it’s okay to forget about these concepts from time to time, as long as you catch yourself later doing so. Then try it again with more consciousness this time.

We would love to hear your stories in the comments below!

Coverphoto by Ben White on Unsplash

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