Letting go


The crux of the problem is this: When you are successful, it is probably because you are good at what you do and comfortable taking charge; but if you want to continue to be successful, you will need grow and expand your capabilities, which requires you to stop doing what made you successful before and relinquish control to someone else.

Delegating is hard for many of us, myself included, for a variety of reasons. It can be hard to give up control, especially when you still retain ultimate responsibility for the outcome. Maybe you are afraid that only you can do the job right or don’t want to take the time to get others up to snuff. Maybe you are concerned about becoming obsolete or about looking incompetent asking for help. Some people worry about over-burdening others or are afraid of the conflict that might arise if someone doesn’t perform according to expectations. Now that I’m thinking about it, why should I delegate? It seems fraught with risks.

Delegating frees you up so that you can spend more time doing what you should be doing. The higher you go in an organization, the more your contributions will be on broader business issues. This demands that you spend more time on conceptual and strategic thinking. Delegating is also an important management tool for helping others grow and expand their own skill set. Taking on a new task challenges and empowers people and is therefore an effective way to foster engagement. It shows people that you trust them and gives you a chance to coach them on competencies that are relevant for their own continuing success. Another important reason to delegate is that you simply can’t do it all – delegating helps you manage your time better and reduces stress. All of this means that delegating makes both you and the organization more efficient and effective.

If you do it well, that is. It’s important to find a happy medium between micro-managing and giving your people enough rope to hang with. Those of us with control issues may have a hard time passing the baton completely. Hovering or, worse, stepping back in to do the work yourself, is worse than not delegating at all. Not only is it a mismanagement of both your time, it communicates to the other person that you don’t trust them, which can damage their confidence and your reputation. At the other end of the extreme are those who by nature are more laidback and prefer to take a laissez-faire approach. But if people aren’t clear about your expectations, they may feel adrift and results could suffer. When delegating, you need to clearly establish parameters and timeframes and then allow the person freedom to execute within them, taking into consideration their personal preferences and needs. Do they prefer a little extra hand-holding or are they independent operators? Do they need to be encouraged to stand on their own two feet or encouraged to consult you and other experts as needed? What skills or supports to they need to succeed at the task? What connections with others will they need to make that you can facilitate?

Delegating effectively requires that you think strategically about your strengths, weaknesses, and career goals, as well as those of your staff. What can you let go of that would also give someone else a chance to grow and succeed? What will you be able to embrace once your hands are free?

“The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it.”  –Theodore Roosevelt

“Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.”  –General George Smith Patton, Jr.