How to Delegate to Subordinates

What are your best tips for a new mid-level manager for how to delegate to subordinates, readers? We’ve had a lot of conversations about how to be a boss, whether you should aim to be liked or respected as a boss, how to delegate work to your assistant, and we’ve also rounded up general reading for leadership resources for women — but it’s been a while. So let’s discuss how to delegate to subordinates. Here’s Reader C’s question:

I have a request that I don’t think has been directly addressed in a post. I’m a mid-level Big Law associate, and I was wondering if you (and the hive) had some general advice for adjusting to the newer role of delegating to junior associates. I’m more friendly and generally willing to walk newbies through concepts, but I think I end up getting taken advantage of and not as respected as the more standoffish associates. How do I strike a balance?

Great question. A few easy tips for how to delegate to subordinates:

(Pictured: love this mug, available at Target for $20 (affiliate link) — the bottom of it says “I’m not bossy, I’m the boss.”) 

-------Sponsored Links--------

  • Have a clear idea of what needs to be done — and what part you expect everyone to play in getting that done. Then, communicate that to your team. Some of the worst bosses I’ve worked with (including micromanagers who wouldn’t delegate) just didn’t have a great idea at the outset about the scope of the work that needed to be accomplished. Of course, if you’re a mid-level in Big Law, this may not always be possible in a macro sense — but being clear on each task at hand is a good one.
  • Set boundaries, but be friendly. We’ve talked about being friends with subordinates before — and it can definitely be done! — but it’s also ok to focus on being more “friendly” and less of a friend.
  • Encourage respect. Small formalities may help you: For example, a reader once noted that she said “good morning” instead of “hi” in the hallways as a way to set more of a business tone, and I always recommend grabbing a blazer to take to meetings (or to put one on before a meeting in your office). To this end you may want to rethink some of your personal habits, which may run the spectrum from frequenting the salon around the corner from your office (nobody likes to get a ton of work dumped on them and then see their boss getting a mani/pedi) to getting tipsy at office events.

Readers, what do you think Reader C should know? What are your best tips on how to delegate to subordinates? 

Social media picture credit: Deposit Photos / pressmaster

A mid-level in BigLaw wrote in wondering for our best tips on how to delegate to subordinates, since she was new to being a boss and struggling with giving junior associates work. Here are some of our best tips on how to delegate to subordinates, and walk the line between being friendly and being a friend.

Comments

  1. Kat, this is the story of my life. I had a guy reporting to me and tried to delegate, but he was useless. So I wound up doeing all of his work myself. The only thing he could do is have $-x with my secretary Lynn, which he did very well (and often), includeing on the conference room table! FOOEY b/c it was ME who had to fire him for doeing that on the table with her. I now know to be very carful in chooseing associate’s b/c I do NOT need a guy who can do nothing other then carry my pump’s to court. I need a REAL lawyer, not a schmoe whose father is a cleint. DOUBEL FOOEY on that!

  2. Anonymous :

    On a related note – any suggestions for leadership / management training for those about to take on management responsibilities? My next promotion will likely be my first management opportunity, and my company has pretty generous professional development funding I can use toward some sort of course or program. Any thoughts?

    • I work for a large bank and so most of our management/leadership training is in-house so I don’t have much for you there. However, I would say to invest the $100 in a subscription to the Harvard Business Review – definitely worth it. Lots of articles on management, etc.

    • Legal Aid Lawyer :

      Alison Green of Ask a Manager has a book. It’s geared toward non-profit management, but the broad concepts transfer regardless of field. I’m a new manager and use it often.

    • Thistledown :

      I love HBR’s books- they have tons of great stuff, including nitty-gritty things like time management templates in excel to big picture guides to strategy. If my company was paying, I would buy everything.

    • Rachel Bowes :

      I second subscribing to Harvard Business Review. I also recommend Coursera. They offer dozens of management courses from the straightforward/skills-based to very academic. Most courses are available for a fee or you can listen to the lectures and access the readings for free.

      • I think accountability and clear communications goes a long way in setting expectations on both sides. With my teams, I would always set specific goals for the week (or for a project) and share guidelines for some open ended to-do’s. That way the team had direction but also a chance to show their creativity and initiative, which worked very well.

  3. Thistledown :

    Example of one of their ebook + tools packages:

    https://hbr.org/product/hbr-guide-to-delivering-effective-feedback-ebook-tools/10084E-KND-ENG

  4. Set deadlines. This helps your subordinates know how to prioritize your projects and provides a “rule” to be followed. So you can say “how’s that project that’s due on Tuesday going?” or “I haven’t seen your draft of X that was due by Tuesday.”

    Also, friendly but firm. Don’t give in to work product that doesn’t meet your expectations. Explain what’s wrong and make them fix it (even if it takes twice as long–you’ll see the benefit in the long run).

    • Thistledown :

      I absolutely second making them fix it. It’s the best way for them to develop skills and you to avoid fixing the same stupid sh1t every g00ddamn time.

      Ask me how I know.

  5. Elizabeth Plummer :

    Assign tasks. Don’t frame them in the form of a question. For example, don’t ask, “can you do X?” or “when you have time will you do X.” This makes it sound as though the tasks are optional. Your task will get pushed to the bottom of the list of priorities. Women have a tendency to do this because they think ordering someone to do something is rude. Simply say, “please do X by this deadline. If you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to ask.” You’re still being polite, but it’s clear it’s command, not a request.

  6. I think accountability and clear communications goes a long way in setting expectations on both sides. With my teams, I would always set specific goals for the week (or for a project) and share guidelines for some open ended to-do’s. That way the team had direction but also a chance to show their creativity and initiative, which worked very well.

  7. I think accountability and clear communications goes a long way in setting expectations on both sides. With my teams, I would always set specific goals for the week (or for a project) and share guidelines for some open ended to-do’s. That way the team had direction but also a chance to show their creativity and initiative, which worked very well overall.

Add a Comment

Thank you for commenting. On the off chance that your comment goes to moderation, note that a moderation message will only appear if you enter an email address. If you have any questions please check out our commenting policy.

work fashion blog press mentions