Delegation is one of the most challenging skills leaders must learn if they want to build trust in their team. Quite honestly, if you are not delegating, you will be stuck managing systems and doing only the work you can handle on your own. Until you can learn to let go and empower others with exceptional talent, delegation may be the biggest obstacle between you and becoming a great leader.
Everyone has something they feel they just cannot let go of. For me, it was managing my organizational calendar. I spent several years as the Chief Operations Officer of a great team of 700+ people. Managing our calendar and keeping everyone on the same page became one of my most important things tasks. Then I got promoted, and my span of control expanded to synchronizing the efforts of more than 3,500+ people.
There was no guidebook, so I picked up the habits that made me successful in the past and got to work. It’s the same thing as 700 people, just scaled up, right? Wrong. I quickly learned that what drove me in the past made me blind to my weaknesses. Let me provide some clarity.
What I thought:
- I was the best in the world at it. In my head, no one on our team could possibly do the job as well as me. I had to do this because I was really good at it, and it made me feel like I had everything under control. The reality was that someone else could do it better, and the tasks didn’t need to be completed by me to still be under my control.
- It would hurt the organization if I stopped. If I did not do my job, the team would suffer, they’d be let down, and no one would be able to pick up the pieces. If someone else messed it up, it would make me look bad. I could not afford to hurt the team or be embarrassed. I just had to work a little harder.
- I should not make anyone else do my work. To me, delegating was just a fancy word for passing off work you should be doing. It’s lazy to hand off your work to someone else. If you hand off your work to someone else, people will think you’re lazy. I am not lazy.
What I was blind to:
- I was hurting the organization. Although I was working five times as hard, my lack of delegation caused mistakes in my work. Each mistake rippled across the organization and got larger the further it got from me. Imagine being on the other end of a mistake that ripples through a team with 3,500+ people in it. It was not pretty, and I didn’t even know how much my mistakes were hurting the people who counted on my competence.
- It was going to hurt to let it go. I didn’t want to let tasks go, even once I realized they would be better off in someone else’s hands. It hurt to admit that my lack of delegation hurt the team more than helped. Letting go had to hurt if I was going to truly learn that delegation was what was best for me and my team.
- I was not prioritizing well. I thought that the calendar and several other things were the most important things to be doing. The reality is that I never took the time to reassess my priorities. What was important for 700 people was not nearly as important for 3,500 people. They needed me to slow down, think critically, be self-aware, and admit my weaknesses. I had to get my priorities straight.
So, what happened?
I decided to delegate. I found someone who was capable and placed my trust in them. The outcome is somewhat predictable, but I will admit it anyway:
- He was better at it.
- The organization did not suffer—they got more efficient.
- He thrived on the trust I gave him.
- The organization needed me to delegate and was thankful when I finally woke up.
- It hurt to let go until I realized he was better.
- With more time, I realized what my priorities were and got them straight.
Delegate the noun vs. delegate the verb
When you think about delegation, most people jump to the idea of passing off one’s work. Take a minute and think about the word. Delegate is both a noun and a verb, but what does it mean?
Delegate, the noun, means a person designated to act for or represent another. Delegate, the verb, is to appoint someone as a representative. To appoint or designate someone as a representative is an act of trust, something few are willing to do. When you think about trusting someone to represent you, it is a significant act and an honor. To delegate is to trust, to honor.
Understanding that and helping your team understand it will help you as a leader and build foundational trust in your team. Delegation is an act of trust.