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Delegation. Terrible idea. I mean – I can do it faster, better myself. Raise your hand if you’ve ever thought this. Come on – no one’s looking. You know who you are – put it up.

OK – we all buy the importance of delegation… in theory. But in practice? We have so many reasons to hesitate. Delegating is easier said than done!

When clients reach out in search of ways to make work work better for them (i.e., outcomes improved, ideas flowing, efficiencies jamming…), I find with astonishing frequency that overwork, overflow, and overwhelm are primary symptoms of their distress. And when I dig in, I find – again with astonishing frequency – that delegation has been shelved with the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny (great story… but we all know it ain’t real!)

But delegation is beyond essential – for engagement, skill-building, sanity-management, and overall success. It’s SO important! So why do we resist it?

In this edition, we’ll be sharing the three most common points of resistance we see [it runs so deep, we’ve even dedicated one of our signature workshops to bringing teams past the resistance and into Delegationville!] and we offer some simple strategies to get you over the hump.

So read on, and see if you can spot your own mindset (or perhaps the mindset of your leader) in one or more of the below.


Point of Resistance #1: It’s faster if I just do it myself!

100% yes. That’s likely true. For today. But keep in mind – being a leader is not just about getting work done. It’s about ensuring the longevity of the work, growing skills on your team, bringing people into the fold of inclusion so everyone feels like they are contributing (which interestingly leads to more actual contribution).

What to do about it?

First and foremost, recognize that there are indeed moments of urgency when we as the leader do just need to get it done. But those should be the exception (if not, please contact us immediately – we can help) not the norm. So start small. Take a baby step. What’s the thing that (a) can be taught fairly quickly and simply, and (b) will not break the foundation of your business should it go badly? Got it? Great.

Now here’s how you move ahead: determine (wisely) who’s going to take it on, send them a calendar invite (that’s right – this creates accountability!) and tell them what they need to know. Let them know you’ll be there should they have questions, but otherwise, once they’re ready, let them run with it.

Point of Resistance #2: This is too complex. I’m not sure she’s ready for this.

Guess what. You’re probably right. But it’s a self-perpetuating cycle. When you hoard something because Suzie isn’t ready to take it on, then Suzie is robbed of the opportunity to learn it and she will continue not to be ready to take it on. But what if Suzie [bleeps] it up? How do we break this cycle? Ah, read on.

What to do about it?

I recommend to my clients that they take the “training wheels” approach to delegation. If Suzie has never, say, led a pitch meeting before, then likely she isn’t ready to just step up and do so. And the stakes are pretty high. But let’s look at some strategies you can use to help Suzie start to build the muscle… so maybe six months from now she can take this on. Here are some ideas:

  1. First, have her sit in on some pitch meetings – even as a fly on the wall, so she understands what success looks like
  2. Then start to involve Suzie in both your prep and reflection – how do you set up for a strong meeting, and what insights do you have following? Start giving her some ownership in the prep
  3. Now start having Suzie facilitate small pieces of the meeting – maybe she answers a few questions from the client to get some exposure
  4. Next have her facilitate a meeting with you there as her co-pilot – and then be sure you and Suzie debrief after so she is learning real-timeFinally let go of the leash

Point of Resistance #3: I don’t want my team to feel dumped on

Not every minute of every day can be sexy. Sometimes the status report needs to be completed, the deck formatted and edited. And sometimes the great leaders feel terrible about “dumping” the grunt work on their teams. So these leaders do it themselves – classic hero mentality. Well we’re here to tell you, you’re doing no one a favor. Because if it matters to the business, then Joe and Jane should have exposure to what fuels your success. So how do we push past this? Read ahead!

What to do about it?

This one is actually a two-parter.

Part 1: If the work truly is that painful, then your first question as a leader should be – are we really adding critical value by doing this? Can we possibly just let it go? If yes – then let it go! And if no, ask yourself – is there any way to make this more efficient or automated, or just generally less painful? And once the work is in its simplest form…

Part 2: Invest the time in setting the context. There is a huge difference between asking someone to spend an hour filling out a spreadsheet versus helping them understand the value of this report to your overall business. Whether it helps you manage projects or budgets or whatever else, when people feel connected to a greater purpose (versus just feeling like they’re doing mindless busy work), their level of engagement actually increases. Which serves you in the end, making work work better!

Which of these points felt most relevant to you? Is there something you’re willing to give a try? Please let us know what you thought of this edition, and whether these pointers have helped your work work better!