If you plan to be an incredible leader for your team, you absolutely have to delegate. There's simply too much to do and know to not trust others to do what you want to do, since there's only one of you.

But delegating isn't just a matter of efficiency. It's also the key to more effective, smart decisions that will keep you in business and climbing the ladder of success for years down the road.

Decisions and your brain

In an article for Scientific American, On Amir takes a look at the neuroscience behind making choices. He explains that the brain is limited by the energy it has. Your noodle gobbles up some of that energy whenever you perform an executive function, even if what you're doing is as simple as deciding what to eat. Studies by researchers such as Kathleen Vohs (University of Minnesota) and Nathan Novembsky (Yale) suggest that both following through with a decision and resolving tradeoffs uses executive function and drains your brain's energy.

As Amir summarizes, the here-and-now implication of this neuroscientific research is that, even if by some miracle you knew it all and had all the time in the world, every decision you make through the day is making a withdrawal from the Bank of Brain. As the day wears on, there's less and less energy available. Your risk of making a bad decision goes up as your brain gets more and more taxed.

One solution, of course, is to try to limit decision making to when we're most rested and still well fueled, especially if the choices are going to have huge ramifications and influence.

But the other option is just to limit the number of decisions you have to make in the first place, since every one of them will tax your brain.

That's where delegating comes in.

Whenever you hand decisions off to someone else, you're essentially choosing to reserve your brain power for the choices still left on your plate. And by trusting others to make some calls on your behalf, you up the odds that the calls you make yourself will be better and have bigger payoffs.

5 steps to fruitful delegation

Like anything, though, delegating is a skill itself. If you don't do it right, then both operations and relationships can fall apart fast. You'll likely have more success if you make sure to follow the following steps.

1. Figure out what your priorities are. If you've been in the driver's seat on everything and have invested all you've got into your company, it can be hard to feel like anyone else can take over without negative consequences.

But the reality is, if you're hiring people who are better than you at their jobs and who challenge you, the way you should be, you just need to decide what tasks are most important and deserve your personal attention. The best tasks to delegate are ones that:

  • Reoccur
  • Can be redone or have lower consequences
  • Let others grow by doing them
  • Already have someone who has most of the information necessary
  • Would be a time issue for you to handle.

2. Analyze and match. Every person on your team has unique qualifications, authorizations, work styles, goals, and levels of responsibility. Analyze each employee for those elements and try to fit them to decisions they have the skills and expertise for, rather than just handing the choice over to anyone with time and ambition. Since the neuroscience applies to them, too, make sure that the amount of decisions you're requesting is reasonable for them, just as you're trying to set a reasonable amount for yourself.

3. Request. Let your people know what you need help with in full transparency. Instead of making blanket demands, phrase the request in terms of offering opportunities. Clearly explain why you trust them to make the choices you're asking them to spend time on, and help them feel like they are empowered about whether they take on the responsibility for you.

4. Offer guidance. This might mean doing some mentoring so the person you're working with has a better sense of your thought processes and what your preferences are. It also could mean providing specific resources. But at a bare minimum, the person you delegate to should have a deadline and clear outline of the steps they should take to come to a decision for you. Be available if they have questions!

5. Check in. This is your chance not just to get feedback but to keep encouraging, mentoring, and thanking your employee. Work together to make arrangements for next steps.

Proper delegation takes some planning and still requires you to stay connected to the people you're trusting. But with less on your plate, your brain will be fired up to tackle harder and bigger issues. Start small by handing out easier decisions. Then just work your way up.