September 29, 2010 Business, CEO, Leadership, Management

Delegating for Growth

When my children were younger they often asked me what I did at work.  As my career advanced my answer changed.  This particular time it was my son asking and I explained that my job was to help set the company’s strategy, help make people the best they can be, and ensure that our organization had the right resources and skills sets to execute our business plan.   My son’s response was, “So, you don’t really do any actual work.”

After my husband stopped laughing, I assured my son that I worked very hard and the work I was doing was critical to the success of the business. But in a way, my son was picking up on something important: I had gotten to a point in my career where my contribution to the company was better served by teaching others, rather than doing it myself.

A lot of leaders can’t get to this point because they either don’t know how to or they’re afraid of delegating. Maybe they think it will take too long to train someone effectively, or if they delegate too much, they’ll have nothing left to do. And often the more competent they are, the harder it is to delegate. They’re afraid the work won’t get done at all, or more likely, it won’t be done according to their high standards. It’s difficult to give up control, especially when you won’t tolerate anything less than the perfectionism and the high-level of performance you expect of yourself.

Trust me, I know because I am definitely one of those control freaks.  I am trying to reform, but sometimes I slip.  However, I have learned that I can’t do everything myself. The only way your career – and your business – will grow is by assuming increasingly higher levels of responsibility; the only way you’ll have time to do that, without spending your life at work, is to delegate. You have to work on your business and let everyone else work in it.

Below are some tips that may help you delegate with more ease:

Create a culture where mistakes are tolerated. All senior leaders must understand that mistakes are acceptable — as long as people learn from them. No one will accept more responsibility, try new things, or risk making a mistake if they get yelled at or penalized. This is essential.

In formal reviews, include a specific rating for delegation. Do not just mention delegation in passing. It should merit a specific grade. Discuss with managers how they can delegate one-third of their job to one or more of their direct reports. Ask them to develop a specific timeline with the peoples’ names to which they’ll delegate.

Communicate to your staff that pay increases come only with increased value provided. Increased value comes not only with increased effort, but also with a higher-level responsibilities and duties — some of those duties that you might be doing now.

It’s so easy to solve others’ problems by giving quick solutions, but that makes people dependent on you. Tell all your direct reports, and have them tell theirs, that when people want to know how to solve something, they must come with suggested solutions. They should be ready to discuss the factors that should be considered, and provide reasons why one solution seems better than another. Pretty soon people will become more autonomous, feel more empowered, need less supervision, and get people in the habit of thinking critically. That’s good input for determining succession planning and promotions.