“Give Away Your Toys”
With a working definition of delegation, the next question to answer is: what should I delegate?
My foundational principle here is “give away your toys”.
It’s tempting to delegate the tasks we dislike, but that’s often poor management. Passing down the tedious, boring, or otherwise odious tasks can build resentment and burnout. Instead, the work you should look to delegate is the stuff you love, the best parts of your job. Don’t delegate the work you dislike or dread. A not-insignificant percentage of a manager’s job is uncomfortable, tedious, or both. You should be doing this work so the people on your team can focus on their jobs, not looking to offload it.
Instead, look to delegate the best parts of your job. The most exciting projects. The big decisions that’ll drive the team’s direction. The fun stuff. Remember that effective delegation is mutually beneficial; one of the best ways to ensure that this stays true is to delegate really great work. If it hurts to give it away, you probably should.
In my case, this often means delegating planning or developing strategy. I really enjoy mapping out upcoming work, setting priorities, establishing direction and themes, etc. But project planning or strategy are fantastic delegation opportunities. They requires someone from my team to participate, but there’s no particular reason it has to be me. In fact, often ICs will do a better job of this: they are are closer to the work, and hence have the most context. This work is often time-consuming (especially activities like quarterly planning, which can be several hours or even days of meetings). They provide high exposure and visibility to whoever I delegate. So even though I quite enjoy this work, it’s something I seek to delegate.
The exception is: if the person you’re delegating to genuinely wants to take on the work, and doesn’t share your dislike, then it might be ok to delegate that task. For example: I tend to dislike project management. This is true of many developers, though, and in nearly every management role I’ve had it’s clearly part of my job. So I typically won’t seek to delegate project management to anyone on my team. However, occasionally I get to work with people who love project management – and if that’s the case, I will happily pass it off.