Toastmaster — November 2011
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DARE TO DELEGATE
Judith E Pearson


If you want to be a leader, Toastmasters International is a top-notch proving ground. You can chair committees, organize conferences and contests, and hold offices –– valuable experiences that will advance your career and skyrocket your self-confidence. You may be thinking: Sure, I’d like to pursue leadership opportunities, but it seems like too much work. Think again! As a leader, you must dare to delegate.

Delegating gives a leader many advantages. Besides reducing your work and saving time, it teaches you to communicate persuasively, supervise and train others, and expand your sphere of influence. Those who take part can benefit as well, enjoying the gratification of service to a cause, self-improvement through hands-on training and personal growth through problem-solving, learning and mastery. The work becomes easier and often more fun. In addition, more people share the satisfaction of a job well done. Delegation is especially important to an organization like Toastmasters International where volunteers perform most of the work. Since our leaders cannot hire or fire, they must instead guide and inspire.

Choose the right people and motivate them.

Once you’ve estimated how many people you will need, it’s time to delegate tasks. When looking for people, remember: Motivation and dependability are more important than skill.

The way you present the task to others can bolster their willingness to participate and follow through. Infuse your team with enthusiasm for the work ahead, and emphasize the importance of the project in a positive manner.

Volunteers are most responsive and enthusiastic when their assignments tie in with their needs. You can appeal to a person’s need for a sense of belonging by saying, “We want you on our team.” To appeal to self-esteem, say, “Your unique skills and talents will make this conference a success.” To appeal to achievement and mastery, say “I’m going to help you step out of your comfort zone, stretch your abilities and succeed at something you never thought you could do.”

Years ago I had the privilege to work as an area governor under Past International Director Evelyn-Jane “E.J.” Burgay. She once said to me, “You have to know what makes people tick.” E.J. was an expert at delegating and motivating others. She knew that learning is high on my list of values. When she phoned me to participate in a project, she always said, “Judy, I have a great learning experience for you!” When I knew the project would match my value system, I inevitably said “yes.”

Match the person to the task.

You compliment others when you ask them to participate in a task that matches or expands their skills. People enjoy demonstrating their expertise –– especially for a worthy or important goal. To match the person to the task, I repeat: You must get to know people.

Some folks like working with technical details while others like working creatively. Some excel in the limelight; others are more comfortable behind the scenes. Some people are good with numbers; others prefer working with words. If you are organizing a team or committee, make certain the members of the group have a good mix of talents and strengths.

Define project tasks and communicate them clearly.

Clearly communicate to each team member the purpose of the project, or her responsibilities and the schedule. Specify and quantify what you expect for the final outcome and rewrite complicated instructions in the simpler form of an outline or diagram.

Provide access, or tell your team how to obtain any relevant reference materials, such as training manuals, meeting minutes and workbooks. Ask questions to ensure they understand their tasks, like “Do you understand the instructions?” and “Do you have a good concept of the end product?” Then give every member your phone number(s) and make yourself available throughout the life of the project to answer questions and provide additional guidance and clarification.

Track progress, give feedback and help people solve problems.

Check in with your workers periodically and ask about their progress. Are they completing project milestones on time? Do they have the resources they need? Have unforeseen obstacles emerged? Do they still understand the task? Throughout the project, your leadership responsibility is to monitor the work, provide guidance and give feedback. Giving feedback is similar to giving a speech evaluation. Be positive and helpful. Use phrases such as this one: “I like the way you have done this part of the task. Here are some additional approaches.”

When you check on progress, ask open-ended questions such as, “What are you working on now, and what have you accomplished since we last talked?” Provide sincere praise and positive reinforcement for all efforts. Almost everyone enjoys hearing, “Well done, I knew we could count on you.” or “Wow! That’s great progress!” or “I admire and appreciate your work.”

If the work seems behind schedule, or the finished products are flawed, maintain a helpful, open attitude. Explore with team members how improvements could be made. Ask what additional help or resources they may need. If the project is not going well, consider other approaches. You may need more volunteers or a restructuring of work assignments. If you find that a particular person is poorly suited to a task, you could assign a mentor to work with him, or you could ask him to take on another task instead.

If a member must resign as a result of illness or conflicting priorities and responsibilities, empathize with any problems, thank her for the work done so far and allow her to bow out gracefully. Remember, Toastmasters is a volunteer organization. A member who is not available for today’s project may be available for future projects –– provided you have maintained a positive relationship.

Allow for creativity and variations in work style.

Keep your focus on the final result and final product(s), not on the details of how the job gets done. People accomplish their work in various ways, according to individual preferences. When people are allowed to work in their preferred ways, they feel ownership for the work.

While some people like to work piecemeal, others like to complete tasks through continual effort. The people on your team may not perform the task exactly the same way you would. In fact, if you have selected skilled, creative and motivated people, they probably will do the task better than you would have, and you will be pleasantly surprised with the results of their endeavors!

At project completion, provide thanks, recognition and rewards.

At project completion, many Toastmasters will feel an inner satisfaction in knowing that they served a worthy cause. Others will be glad they helped out because they learned valuable self-improvement and professional skills and, we hope, had a good time in the process. Nevertheless, recognition and rewards are a meaningful part of the volunteer’s experience. Share the credit and let people know their work is valuable.

By delegating work, you will develop your own skills too, particularly in listening, planning, decision-making and problem-solving. So organize a campaign to be elected division governor. Raise your hand when your club or district needs a chairperson. Let the executive committee know you want to coordinate the conference. You can do it, because you dare to delegate!
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