You may well be thinking that you’re far too junior or inexperienced to be thinking about leadership and delegation but I promise you – it’s never too early to start. When I was a junior corporate associate I was often delegating to trainee solicitors, paralegals and my PA. Indeed, without their help and input there simply wouldn’t have been enough hours in the day to get all my work done.
Delegation isn’t just about dumping work onto junior colleagues. Your ability to delegate plays an important role in effective team working, a business skill that’s vitally important to the success of all up and coming junior solicitors.
Too often lawyers view themselves as self-sufficient ‘individuals’ rather than team players. This is definitely something I can relate to. I regularly took on far too much responsibility for a simple and self-serving reason – if someone else successfully tackled the task they’d steal my thunder and I’d be cast in their shadow. For instance, as a journalist, I clung onto far too many leads for news stories because I did not want to share the byline with a colleague. Looking back, such behaviour put bluntly now looks and feels slightly immature and a far cry from being a great team player.
Common attributes of great team players
To be a great team player, you don’t have to be extroverted or indulge in self-promotion. You need to be an active participant and do more than your job title states. Put the team’s objectives above yours and take the initiative to get tasks done without waiting to be asked. In return you’re likely to gain more visibility and develop influential internal connections to get ahead of your peers. Other traits of great team players include:
- First and foremost they are enthusiastic and committed.
- Great team players are constantly reliable day in and day out.
- You can count on them to get the job done, meet deadlines, keep their word and provide quality work on a consistent basis. With excellent performance, organisation and follow-through on tasks they develop positive and meaningful relationships with colleagues.
- Great team players are co-operative and roll their sleeves up when a colleague is in need.
- They won’t hesitate to go the extra mile.
- They typically have a great sense of humour. They take the task at hand seriously but not themselves.
- Great team players communicate clearly, effectively and with confidence. They speak up and express their thoughts and ideas clearly, directly and honestly. They have respect for others and for the work of their team. They communicate in a positive, confident, and respectful manner. Great team players also listen actively and attentively. They listen, process and reflect before speaking. They’re also less likely to have a strong reaction to negative feedback.
- They are versatile and happy to adapt. Good team players roll with the punches and adapt to ever-changing situations. They remain calm in busy and unfamiliar situations. They appreciate different perspectives and compromise when appropriate. Strong team players are firm in their thoughts yet open to what others have to offer.
- They always treat colleagues with respect. They are consistently courteous and considerate. They show understanding and offer appropriate support to other team members and don’t trample all over them.
Delegation is the activity in which authority is given to enable someone to accomplish a certain end or objective, but with the person who delegated the authority retaining final responsibility. Even though you have delegated a task to someone else, you’re still responsible for making sure it is done on time and meets the end clients’ expectations. If the task fails, you cannot pass the buck. You delegated. It is your fault.
One of the main phobias lawyers have about delegation is that by giving others authority, they lose control. This was certainly one of my biggest fears. My other one was that nobody else could complete the task as well as me. Others, meanwhile, often view delegation as dumping their workload on a colleague. This definitely need not be the case. What’s more, there’s no shame in asking for help!
If you train junior colleagues to apply the same criteria as you would yourself (eg leading by example and offering clear guidelines) they’ll be exercising control on your behalf. And since they’ll experience first-hand many more situations over which control may be exercised (in other words you can’t be in several places at once) that control is exercised more diversely and rapidly than you could yourself.
Delegation also provides you with more time and helps reduce stress, meaning you’ll be able to take on higher priority projects. For junior lawyers, the ability to delegate effectively will in the longer term make them better at transaction or matter management.
Meanwhile, delegation benefits junior colleagues on several different levels. First and foremost – giving paralegals, trainee solicitors and junior lawyers more responsibility helps with their professional development because they are effectively learning on the job. This in turn boosts their self-esteem and confidence resulting in a sense of achievement. In short, delegation allows you to make the best use of your time and skills, whilst helping team members grow and develop to reach their full potential.
When to delegate
First off, assess routine activities that you’re involved in to determine if any can be eliminated or delegated. As I’ve already mentioned, the most common reason why people avoid delegation is fear – fear the other person will fail, fear of losing control, fear the project won’t get finished on time and to their exacting standards or indeed fear of coming across as lazy. Furthermore, don’t avoid delegating something because you can’t give someone the entire project. Ask yourself:
- Is there anyone else in your team / firm who has (or can be given) the necessary information or expertise to complete the task?
- Does the task provide an opportunity to grow or develop another person’s skills?
- Finally, determine if you have enough time to delegate effectively.
Identify a suitable colleague for the task. Never underestimate that individual’s potential. Delegate slightly more than you think they’re capable of handling. Expect them to succeed, and more frequently than not you should be pleasantly surprised.
Prepare your colleague by patiently explaining the task, ensuring they’ve fully understood your instructions. Also, ensure the person has the necessary authority / skills to do the job properly. Next, clearly determine the deliverable, then let your colleague use some creative thinking of their own as to how to reach that outcome. Obviously, the more experienced the other person is, the greater the freedom you can give them. The more critical the task the more cautious you need to be about extending a lot of freedom, especially if your job or reputation depends on getting a good result. Finally, clearly define limits of authority that go with the delegated job. Clear standards of performance will help the person know when he or she is doing exactly what is expected.
Other tips for effective delegation:
- Discuss timeline and deadlines.
- If the task is to be completed over a period of days agree how your colleague is going to keep you updated on their progress. For instance, you may wish to book in a follow-up call at the mid-way point.
- Keep in touch with your colleague for support and monitoring progress. Don’t get too close or micro-manage. Accept alternative approaches.
- Allow sufficient time to check submitted work and any changes that you may need to make before sharing with the end client.
- Praise / acknowledge a job well done and always say thank you! I personally found rewarding trainees or paralegals with chocolates was a great way to get the most out of them.
Husnara Begum, careers consultant and owner of CheekyLittleCareers