Delegation can be one of the most difficult leadership skills to master. Otherwise capable leaders often say that the idea of delegation is a bit scary. What if I delegate a task and it does not get done? What if I give someone a job to do and it does not get done exactly the way I envisioned? In the following paragraphs, you will read about strategies that you can adopt to become a leader who can delegate effectively with confidence.
What is delegation? Let’s start with the meaning of the word. The word “delegate” can be used as a noun or a verb. In the world of 4-H, we use the word frequently in both forms. We may send a delegate or contingent of delegates to conferences or meetings to represent our organization. The focus of this article will be on the verb form of delegate. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the act of delegating means “to entrust to another, to assign responsibility or authority.” In 4-H, leaders are encouraged to delegate to team members, including both volunteers and youth.
As a 4-H leader, learning how to delegate will be instrumental for your clubs and club members in several ways. In your role as a club leader, you will want to delegate responsibilities and tasks to other volunteers as well as youth. Additionally, teaching 4-H youth how to delegate imparts a valuable leadership skill.
Mastering the Art of Delegation
Mastering the art of delegation is a key time management skill for 4-H club leaders. Learning to delegate tasks to other adult volunteers as well as club youth will contribute to the success of your club and support your longevity as a volunteer leader. The one sure way to become overwhelmed as a 4-H volunteer is to make the error of trying to do everything yourself.
Skillful delegation is one of the hallmarks of a transformational leader. In 4-H, the essential elements that serve as the foundation of our positive youth development programs are categorized into four key concepts: belonging, independence, mastery, and generosity.
When a leader entrusts a task to another volunteer or youth, the person feels trusted and valued. Delegation is one way to help establish a sense of belonging. Volunteers and youth alike will feel like an important part of the group because they have been given a role through delegation. Youth who are entrusted to complete a task have the chance to experience independence. Leaders who delegate also give youth an opportunity to demonstrate mastery of important life skills. Practicing delegation in the club leadership role is a way to empower other volunteers as well as youth to experience and practice generosity through contributing time and talent to the organization and the larger community.
Delegation is a key element in setting and achieving a group’s SMART goals. The SMART goals acronym describes a process for goal setting that can be used with volunteers and youth.
S – Specific
M – Measureable
A – Attainable (or actionable)
R – Relevant (or realistic)
T – Time-bound
While SMART goals can be used for individuals to plan out projects, SMART goals are also a helpful tool to use with groups as a SMART way to delegate! A 4-H leader can use the elements of the SMART goal process as a guide to assigning tasks to other volunteers or 4-H youth. Leaders who learn to delegate goal-oriented tasks that follow the SMART formula will find that objectives are successfully achieved.
Another way to think about delegation as a process is the P.A.T. system. P.A.T. is an acronym that stands for Purpose, Action, and Timeframe. To delegate effectively, a leader should communicate the purpose or “why” a person is being entrusted with a task or objective. The amount of detail you provide about the actions needed to complete the task depends on the level of autonomy you want to give the person who receives a delegated task. As a club leader who wants to foster independence in your club members, how you determine the autonomy level to give youth is a critical step in developing young leaders. As you become more confident in your delegation skills, you may provide fewer action details and give other volunteers or youth the opportunity to make independent decisions about how to accomplish a delegated task. Finally, establishing a timeframe for completing the assigned task gives a defined time-bound end point to the delegation process, similar to the “T” in SMART goal setting.
For youth leadership development, delegation can be a learning experience in two ways. One way to help youth learn leadership skills is to entrust them with tasks to complete. The second way to help youth learn delegation is to assign authority to lead a team working on a project that will require delegation task for successful completion. Teaching delegation skills is one way club leaders can enable youth to act as leaders.
Strategies to Teach Delegation Skills
In the EDIS document Exemplary Youth Leadership Series: Enable Others to Act, two exercises are presented that provide opportunities for youth to learn and practice delegation skills. The activities outlined below appear in the linked EDIS document. These activities may also be adapted for use with adult volunteers.
Trust Builders—Participants will create an environment of trust.
Materials: Scissors, tape, pipe cleaners, paper, markers, straws, etc.
Group size: Divide the group into groups of 4–5 people.
Before starting this activity:
- Make sure you do not mention anything about trust to the participants.
- Gather a list of random supplies, but make sure you have a limited quantity of everything for the size of the group.
- Create a list of tasks based on the supplies that are present. For example, cut out a green heart. Make a flag out of yellow paper and a straw. Write everyone’s initials on the flag in black marker. The number of tasks can align with the time limitations of the overall activity (i.e., more tasks, more time).
- Divide the supplies into the number of groups present. Ensure that each group does NOT have all of the materials necessary to complete the task. Only have one set of critical items (tape, scissors, etc.).
- Tell the participants they are in a race.
- In a moment, they will be given a list of tasks to complete. The first team to get all of their tasks done correctly wins.
- Hand out a list of tasks and each group’s supplies.*
*These instructions are purposely vague so participants realize that they need to share resources to accomplish all tasks. This may not be immediately evident; however, participants will identify this is the only means to complete the activity. Do not give them parameters on how to share or barter to ensure the task is completed.
- How are we feeling after completing that experience?
- Winning group—what was your strategy?
- Could you have completed any of this on your own?
- Did everyone share equally and honestly with each other? Why?
- In what scenarios do we need to lean on the support of others to accomplish our tasks?
Photo Scavenger Hunt—Participants will demonstrate delegation.
Materials: Smartphones or cameras
Group size: Divide the group into equal-sized teams.
- Create a list of photos to take that are relatively easy to locate or find (e.g., a trash can, someone with red hair, a photo of a flower, participants spelling 4-H with their arms/torso, etc.).
- Tell the participants they are competing against the other groups to complete the scavenger hunt.
- Go over safety precautions or rules depending on location.
- Give youth the list.
- The first team with all of the correct photos wins.
Modification: If smartphones or cameras are not accessible, the photos could be replaced with items.
- The winning team—what was your strategy? Did you have one person take all of the photos or did you give each person a different task?
- What would have happened if we gave each person a different item they were in charge of? Do you think we would have been more efficient?
- Why is it important for us as leaders to be able to give other people tasks?
- How can we delegate responsibilities when we are faced with challenges?
There are many opportunities for youth and volunteers to develop leadership skills such as the art of delegation over the course of their 4-H experience. Incorporate one of the activities described in this article into a 4-H club meeting or volunteer training! For more information, training opportunities, resources, and opportunities to become involved with 4-H, please contact your local UF/IFAS Extension office.