The ability to effectively delegate is an essential skill for frontline clinicians, educators, and nursing leaders. Delegation is a fundamental element of leadership and teamwork that lets individuals with various talents, roles, and responsibilities come together, divvy up the workload, and make any job more manageable. When done well, the work is accomplished successfully, generating a strong sense of collaboration, pride, and esprit de corps within the team. When done poorly, well...there's likely to be conflict, bitterness, and morale problems.
Delegation is hard for a lot of people. I've heard nurses comment that they just want to be responsible for their own actions because it's too difficult to be accountable for what others do. Newer nurses in particular may feel guilty about asking others to help them, even those employees whose actual job it is to help. They may worry that staff will perceive them as being unable to handle the workload, or that certain people on the unit won't accept or like them.
Some individuals can't get beyond the idea that if they don't do the work themselves, it won't be done right. That's a sure-fire recipe for failure in any nursing leadership role. A good leader knows that his or her effectiveness is derived from the collective talents of the team. The ability to fully develop and harness that talent comes down to knowing how to delegate. Leaders who try to do it all severely limit both their scope and their potential.
So, I have four points to ponder about delegation:
1. Know what you can and can't delegate from legal, professional regulatory, and hospital policy perspectives.
2. Don't be a jerk. Yes, there are those who enjoy delegating too much—and in a toxic way. The idea is to inspire all team members to feel good about their contributions and ensure they know how their efforts led to success (even if “success” simply means surviving a challenging shift with a sense of camaraderie).
3. Outline clear expectations of the desired outcomes—don't leave performance up to chance.
4. Be open to constructive feedback and new ideas or approaches.
Always remember that the entire team must play from the same sheet of music to be in harmony.
Until next time—
Linda Laskowski-Jones, MS, RN, ACNS-BC, CEN, FAWM
Editor-in-Chief, Nursing2014 Vice President: Emergency & Trauma Services Christiana Care Health System, Wilmington, Del.