In my last post, I wrote about the chronic problem of “I’m so busy” leadership. Thanks to all those of you who commented on and shared this post through LinkedIn. This week, I follow up with thoughts on an antidote for leaders’ busyness: delegation.
Two months ago, I was in conversation with the president of a company who told me he wanted to cultivate better balance in his life. Indeed, routinely working six to seven days a week, this leader was busy! As we continued talking, I asked him this question:
“To what extent are you holding your company back
because you are so busy?”
Over the phone, I heard him practically choke on his answer: “Um, I never thought about it that way.”
This leader has been operating at the outer limits of his bandwidth for some time. He knows his pace isn’t sustainable. But it had not occurred to him that the collateral damage for his busyness might extend beyond him and his family. He quickly made the link that he could be slowing the growth of his company.
We call such a person a “chokepoint.” Everything they own slows down. Everyone is waiting on them. The chokepoint person can certainly say, “I’m so busy,” because they are doing it all! But it’s not all getting done.
Are you a chokepoint?
It’s easy to fall into this trap. Most leaders are promoted because they get things done. They are great doers.
Unfortunately, being great doers can prevent them from being great leaders. At some point – generally by their 30s or 40s – doers finally wake up to the fact that their workload is not sustainable. And one way to “do” less, and yet get more done, is by learning to delegate.
Leadership is leverage, and delegation is its fulcrum.
Great leaders don’t just do more.
Great leaders do more through others.
Delegation creates wins for everyone.
• Leaders grow. They remove tasks they have historically done from their plates. This frees up space to take on new ones.
• Direct Reports grow. They receive new tasks that are challenging and motivating.
• Organizations grow. Leaders have time to look up and see more of what is going on around them. They have space to be visionary, thinking about the future.
If this resonates, make it a goal to delegate at least one task this week. Try these delegation “best practices:”
- Communicate clearly. Delegate whole tasks. Be clear on what (expected outcome), when (timeline), and why (task significance). Be open to how they do it.
- Set time frames and goals. Agree on a specific milestone/conclusion timeline. Allow extra time for your report to complete the task. They won’t be as quick as you the first few times!
- Hold accountable. Check in on progress. Ask good questions to confirm that the what, when and why are still clear. Often leaders who have difficulty delegating also struggle with holding accountable.
- Give feedback. At task conclusion, discuss what worked well and what didn’t. Help your direct think through if or how they might do things differently next time.
Leaders who delegate well are doing a lot of things well. They have surrounded themselves with people they trust. They are clear with their expectations. They hold their people accountable. They are truly getting more done – through others. The result? Increased effectiveness. Remember that word?
A year or so ago, I finished working with another leader who had focused on doing less of the work himself and delegating more to others. At the conclusion of our coaching, he summed up his growth this way: “I used to consider my ability to get things done the source of my success. Now, when I get down in the weeds to fix things — it makes me angry. I consider it failure.”
Stop being the chokepoint. Start delegating.
You’ll be less “busy” and get more done!