Mastering the Delegation Dilemma: 3 Steps Toward Letting Go

By | 2018-10-30T23:32:23+00:00 October 5th, 2018|Blog|

By Tanis Cornell, CEO and Jennifer Carter, President

How many hours are in your day? It seems like a silly question, but it’s common for entrepreneurs and business leaders to act like they have more hours in a day than everyone else. They take on too much, hoarding tasks and information until they become a bottleneck for their company. Until their growth grinds to a halt.

Until they grind themselves down trying to do it all.

This is often the result of good intentions: they’re trying to protect their teams, or perfect the business. They’re trying to “get it to a good place” before they hand things off. But failing to delegate often results in the exact opposite impact: teams are resentful and underdeveloped, growth is stifled, everyone feels micromanaged or disempowered.

Businesses – from start-ups all the way through multi-billion dollar companies – evolve in similar, predictable patterns. They move from formation through survival, success/sustainability, take-off and into resource maturity. This is important to know because each stage requires something different from leadership, and this most often takes the form of some sort of delegation. In order for businesses to survive, grow and become sustainable, leaders must stop being in the business (doing the work) in order to work on the business (running the business).

Simply put: delegation is key to survival – for businesses, and for leaders themselves.

In the interest of growth, success, and sanity, here are 3 steps to move you toward delegation:

Step 1: Get comfortable with your identity as a leader, not a doer

 It seems simple, but it’s hard. Likely much of what got you into leadership was the skill and ability to get the job done. It was doing the work. As the secret to your success, it’s tied to your professional identity. That alone can make delegation hard. But if you want to take the next step, you have to move from “do it yourself” to “do it through others.”

This often means embracing a more strategic perspective on the business. Rather than doing the work, you should be guiding and managing it. You should be setting the vision and empowering others to execute it. It requires the development of a new skillset. Consider the nature of your leadership role – what are the skillsets and talents that you alone can bring to that role? What is your team missing out on if you’re too focused on the details and not the overall vision? Where do you need to seek development, equipping and strategic counsel to evolve?

This issue comes up often in both of our EWF Peer Advisory Boards for Owners and Executives. The more elevated your position – whether you’re an owner or executive – the more strategic you must be. That means stepping back from the comfort and confidence of doing the work itself. Many forum members present on these challenges – it’s a common issue, regardless of confidence, accomplishment or industry. Confront it head on.

Step 2: Let your team learn by doing

Sometimes it simply seems easier to just do it yourself. You’re practiced and trained, and it would take longer to explain it than just to do it, right? Well, that depends on how you look at it. Are you measuring against this specific task, or the longer-range performance of your company?

Fixing the short-term problem – this task must be done quickly and urgently – creates a longer-term one: you’re the only one who has mastery in that task, so now it falls to you. It’s a distraction in your schedule, and keeps your team from learning their jobs. You’ve won the battle only to lose the war.

Be willing to walk employees through tasks with the intention of teaching. Let them work through it and make mistakes. It may take longer in the short run, but it will free you up and better equip them in the long run.

Step 3: Equip and empower     

It’s so common to see companies embrace the notion of “empowerment” without properly equipping their employees. You must do both. Here’s what you need to do to cover both:

  1. Explain the “why”. One of the reasons you can do it so quickly yourself is that you understand the “why” – how what you’re doing is connected to everything else. This is a function of experience and mastery. You must be intentional in making sure that your employees understand the “why” of what they’re doing – how it’s connected to the broader outcome, how it affects others’ work, how it fits into other functions. Leaders often understand the “why” intuitively because they see things at a higher level; be intentional about making sure your employees understand the big picture, too.
  2. Set clear expectations. Rather than micromanaging the tasks, make sure you clearly set the goal, and give your employees the opportunity to figure out how to get there. They may find a new way to complete the tasks and accomplish the goals! This also helps you assess how your employees respond to different levels of guidance and oversight – giving you early indications of who might be right to groom for advancement.
  3. Resist the urge to micromanage. It’s unlikely that anyone will do the tasks exactly as you would – and sometimes that’s a tough thing to let go. If you set clear expectations and define success, you have to be willing to give your employees freedom to get there in their own way. Don’t micromanage. Make sure they understand necessary requirements, and give them room to experiment. Give them permission to make mistakes and learn – and make sure they come to you when mistakes are made so they can be corrected / addressed quickly. Companies that are intolerant of mistakes often have higher rates of error than companies that use them as teaching/training opportunities.

Ensure that when you delegate, you give your team the resources they need to get the job done. That may be money, time, guidance, training, etc. Think about what they need. Giving employees some freedom to find their own way builds confidence and trust and allows you to see just what they are capable of doing. And it’ll give you back some of those hours in your day.