Delegation can be tough. It’s gut-wrenching to give up decisions or projects you care strongly about, and then it’s doubly gut-wrenching when it goes wrong. See what happens when one city manager delegates the task of selecting a new city slogan.
In reality, of course, delegation is a necessity if you want to expand your reach and grow your direct reports. So why is it so difficult? Amy Gallo at the Harvard Business Review asked this question in a great 2012 blog post.
I’d like to look at it a different way. What if we could get inside the mind of a non-delegator, what would we see? What if we went to a non-delegator conference (which would be interesting because everyone in charge would have tried to pull off the entire conference by themselves)? What would we hear if the self-talk in the mind of a non-delegator was playing in a loop all over the conference?
I think we’d hear some collection of the following 12 thoughts:
- I need help.
- If it is going to get done right and on time… I am going to have to do it.
- I don’t have anyone who can do this job. It is just too heavy or complicated for others.
- I got this.
- Gosh, I am so busy and loaded down with things to do. I don’t have a life.
- This is right in my strike zone. I’m really loaded down and busy but I love it.
- I just need a little help.
- The person to do this on my team is just too young and too inexperienced.
- The person to do this didn’t hit a home run last time.
- I am the only person really working around here.
- I can’t trust someone on the outside to do this. It is crucial to our success and just too risky
- I need help.
Does this sound like you? Ever had those thoughts?
Some people start at #1 on this list and some people start at #9. Some people hit all the stops and others do a bit of a “greatest hits” tour. Regardless, did you notice the most common thought of a non-delegator? “I need help.”
Most of the delegation-related thoughts of a non-delegator don’t start with “How can we grow profits?” or “How can I best develop the people under me?” They are far more inward-focused—“I need help.” But as they sit and stare at that need, the anxiety around turning over a project outpaces that need for help. And they convince themselves not to delegate.
Sense the need for help. Look around at options. Only trust yourself over others. Add more workload. Repeat.
I have a friend who says, “If someone can do a job 70% as well as you can, let them do it.” Why? Because delegation helps in three key ways:
- Delegation helps me: I am freed up to spend my time on the things that only I can do. The things that I shouldn’t delegate. (Inc. lists five categories that CEOs shouldn’t delegate)
- Delegation helps the person under me: Take away a high performer’s freedom to grow and develop and you might as well send away that high potential. They, too, deserve the chance to discover their strengths.
- Delegation helps the company: You’re increasing the competency of everyone in the organization. Because of this increased competency, you have more innovation and are more prepared to handle staff turnover or drive a growth surge.
Be prepared. They likely won’t do it as well as you will. But it will likely turn out fine. Which is why it helps to look inside the mind of a delegator as well. There, we see thoughts like:
- I need help.
- But they could do it pretty well…
- And I could give feedback so they would do it better the next time…
- They might have some fresh ideas after all.
- What if I didn’t have to think about this anymore? That sounds amazing.
- Isn’t this why I hired them in the first place?
General George Patton said, “Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.”
You non-delegators out there are thinking, “Yeah, that sounds good, but you don’t know the people I work with. It’ll never work.”
I’ve got two solutions for you: 1. Change your staff; 2. Start delegating to them.
Sometimes you have to be blunt with non-delegators.