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Delegation is an essential leadership skill necessary to create and sustain success.

But even more important than just knowing how to delegate is knowing how you’ll clean up should something you delegate go terribly, terribly wrong.

Back in 2013, I wrote about Passing the “Mess Test” as a way to help maximize BOTH your strategic AND tactical thinking. You might find it still relevant after all these years for that AND what we’re talking about here.

Risk Mitigation Planning

The underlying idea is this: If you already know how you WILL mop up, then it will likely to be far less problematic should you NEED to.

In other words, whenever you plan to delegate something – which, per Leadership Move #4, I recommend you REGULARLY do – thinking through precisely HOW you’ll mop up will not only save you considerable time and effort, in-the-moment, but will increase your willingness to delegate more readily than you might otherwise.

The Figure Eight Pattern

Let’s look at some (actual) mopping best practices:

  • If you have a small job, using a sponge mop, to mop back and forth in straight lines, is usually sufficient
  • But if you have a larger job, then using a rag mop in a figure eight pattern, is far more effective

Since your job likely IS a larger job, let’s use the rag mop’s figure eight pattern as our analogy-of-choice.

And, while it may be a ‘messy’ metaphor, here are eight questions you might want to ask (and answer) as you prepare to delegate something to someone:

  1. What will you do if that difficult customer, vendor, or key stakeholder is even more unsatisfied because of how poorly his issue was handled by your delagatee?
  2. How will you respond if a peer, who was counting on you to deliver something important, is left holding the bag because of something done (or not done) by your delagatee?
  3. What steps will you take to unwind your boss from an assignment botched by your delagatee?
  4. How will you react if one of your own key deadlines is missed by a delegatee?
  5. What additional resources do you want at-the-ready should the effort actually fail?
  6. What do you want your delegatee to learn from the experience if the assignment fails to achieve its desired ends?
  7. How will you leverage that learning with the delegatee in future assignments?
  8. [How about YOU come up with the last one?!]

Time Spent is Time Saved

Yes, I know, you’re busy. So busy that you think you don’t have time to plan or sufficiently answer these questions.

That said, if you’d rather just ‘wing it’, that’s certainly up to you.

But, investing even a few moments, BEFORE delegating, ABOUT delegating, can pay-off handsomely.

Not only will it give you some peace-of-mind SHOULD things go wrong, but it will also help you actually know what to do to more quickly defuse a challenging and fast-moving situation, WHEN one develop.


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