By: Alida Zweidler-McKay
The most successful leaders delegate. So, what stops so many of us from doing it when we know it’s our path to growth?
These are some of the most common thoughts that make us hesitate:
- No one will do it like I can
- Something might go wrong
- It’s faster to do it myself
- I don’t have the time or patience to show someone else the ropes
- I haven’t found the right person yet
Each of these has some truth to it, and may also reflect a natural fear of the unknown. Here are some ideas for moving past the hesitation.
It’s true that no other person is likely to do a task exactly the way we do it. It’s also true that something could go wrong. New ideas will be brought to the table. Sometimes those ideas will be helpful, providing a fresh perspective or a new solution that benefits the business. Other times they won’t work out so well, and we’ll need to provide feedback to bring the task back in line with our expectations. Either way, we’ll have learned something valuable in the process.
As a leader preparing to delegate, ask yourself these questions to help mitigate this risk:
- What parts of this task must be done my way, and what parts are open for creative input?
- What’s the reasoning behind the tasks that need to be done “my way”?
It’s also true that getting someone else up to speed will take an investment of our time and energy. In the beginning, it’s definitely faster to do the work ourselves. In that sense, delegating is like any other investment we make in our careers. We weigh the investment and risks against the rewards.
An investment in bringing someone else up to speed in the short-term can pay off if it frees up our time in the longer-term to focus on strategic work relating to growth. Delegating can also be a good investment if we’re tapping into skills or experience we don’t have.
Finally, it’s also true that it can be difficult to find “the right person.” In this case, it’s helpful to let go of the “right/wrong” thinking and to try instead to find someone who is good enough.
There’s rarely one “right person” for any job, so the best way to delegate effectively is to start with the resources we have in front of us now. Find someone who’s good enough to get started and approach it like an experiment. Work together for a bit, and see how it goes.
To improve your chances for success, follow the usual project management best practices:
- Outline project parameters
- Share expectations
- Set realistic goals
- Clarify how you will communicate
- Establish timelines for check-ins and deadlines
- Plan a wrap-up session to reflect on the work together
- Keep a running list of what worked and didn’t so you can improve next time
Aim high by starting small
Start by delegating a low-risk project that represents a good balance of autonomous challenge and predictability. In other words, don’t start by delegating your biggest or highest risk projects.
A few years ago, I attended a business conference where a speaker from GE’s leadership development group shared their approach to delegation. When someone was working their way up, they’d be given a “lemonade stand” project — a smaller, less risky business to run that allowed them to test the waters without worrying about taking a hard hit if it didn’t go well.
Consider who you’ve already got on your team. Who’s working their way up? Is there something you can delegate as a “lemonade stand” project to give them a chance to grow while lightening your workload?
No risk, no reward
When we hand over work to others, we’re taking a bit of a risk and making an investment in the relationship. We’re also making an investment in our growth as we free up our time to take on what’s next. When we play it safe, we’re also playing small. That’s why it’s so important to shift our attitude from one that’s fearful of change to one that’s eager to experiment and expand. Our success depends on it.
Take a few minutes now to think about how you might apply these ideas to your own work:
- What’s one area of responsibility you could start to move off your plate to someone else?
- Who could be a good candidate for taking this on? Could be someone already on your team, or an outside resource or contractor. (If no one comes to mind, think about where you might look for someone…)
- What “lemonade stand” small project could you start with as your first experiment?
I’d love to hear how it goes!
Alida Zweidler-McKay is the President of ZMCoach, where she consults business owners and leaders to break the patterns that break down teams. For more ideas about building your team, learn more on her blog here.
Ellevate Network is a global women’s network: the essential resource for professional women who create, inspire and lead. Together, we #InvestInWomen.