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How to Delegate

Former COO of Google, Europe

IP Interview
Published on February 26, 2020

Why is this interview interesting?

  • How young managers can delegate tasks to direct reports efficiently
  • The shift in mindset from worker to leader for first-time managers
Executive Bio

Ben Legg

Former COO of Google, Europe

Ben is an engineer by training and spent over 10 years in the Royal Engineers in the British Army career before moving to McKinsey. In 2002, he moved to Coca-Cola where he ran teams across Eastern Europe before turning around the Indian business leading 12,000 salespeople. Ben then moved to Google where was COO of UK and Ireland for 2 years before being promoted to COO Europe where he was responsible for writing the monetisation blueprint of Google’s various properties. This involved defining the role of ad units, properties, interactions with agencies and partners, and devising how auctions should work. Ben then ran a Yellow Pages turnaround before running an ad-tech business for 6 years which ran $200m of ad spend through the major technology platforms. Ben is the author of Marketing for CEO’s and is on the Board of The Oxford Foundry where he is a mentor and investor to multiple startups.

Interview Transcript

Another interesting concept that a lot of young managers struggle with is delegation. How do you look to delegate tasks to your team?

It is a real issue. A lot of people become a frontline manager because they’re awesome at doing a certain task. Then they become a leader, and they know they can do the task better than their team. Often, their instinct is just to do it. Sometimes, communicating is hard. You think the other person isn’t as smart as you, they come from a different skill set, or they’re just a bit slower than you. “Ah, I’ll just do it myself.”

Ultimately, you have to realise that’s not your job as a leader. You have many direct reports, so simplistically, if you’ve got six direct reports, you should be giving them about a sixth of your time each. In reality, it’s not even a sixth; it’s probably a tenth because 40% of your time is talking to your boss, your peers, reflecting, improving your skills. If you’re only going to give each of your direct reports 10% of your time, you’ve got to make sure they’re capable of doing the job.

I’m an arch-pragmatist. If I want my whole team to be successful, I can’t do their jobs for them. In a perfect world, I’ll say, “I don’t want to do anything myself.” It’s almost trying to be lazy because that forces you to help your team be successful. There are some things that only the leader can do like talking to the press. They want to talk to the most senior person present, the CEO or the leader. It’s hard to delegate much of that. Hiring people and firing people is so important. You definitely shouldn’t delegate that, but you can delegate filtering candidate lists, some of the testing of skills, but ultimately, you need to make sure you give it enough time.

Deciding on the priorities; that’s too important to delegate. Delivering key presentations. Meeting the most important customers, prospects, or partners. There are some things you can’t delegate, but simplistically, try and delegate everything, but then challenge yourself with what’s left. The good news is when you get to a point where you think you can delegate everything, you can then pick and choose what you bring back, whereas if your default is to try and do your team’s work for them, you’re probably doing too much tactical stuff and not focusing on what you should be doing.

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