Like you, I’ve been well versed in the typical delegating strategies and ideals:
-If someone can do it 80% as well as you can they should be doing it
-Focus your energy on the few things that only you can do
-More time is saved by training someone to do the task than by continuing to do it yourself indefinitely
-Start with less crucial tasks and grow as trust and competence allow
-Never delegate responsibility without the accompanying authority
All of these are often very helpful guidelines, but recently I’m noticing a corollary that I think informs why many strong leaders struggle to follow the well-worn principles.
We have to delegate the capacity to fail.
Time and time again I see leaders attempt to delegate tasks and responsibilities to their team members only to step in and take control when they aren’t handling things well enough. The result is demoralized staff, a continually overworked leader, and decreased trust for everyone.
The vigilance required to be always ready to swoop in and rescue a situation is more draining much of the time than just keeping it on your plate in the first place.
We have to learn how to let people struggle, falter, and fail.
I am deeply aware of how hard this can be. I can immediately recall multiple situation where I took back leadership from someone because I saw them struggling and couldn’t stand by while things suffered. In some of those cases I still think I did the right thing. In all of them my intent was good.
The problem was that I didn’t actually delegate. I didn’t trust them enough to let them fail.
A leader who is truly committed to the development of others has to accept the reality that failure is essential for leadership growth. If I can’t allow that to happen I can have many assistants, but no leaders on my team.
In practice this means we need to invest more in people, not less. We need to build them up to the point where they know when to ask for help, and that doing so will be received as strength rather than weakness. We need to train them to identify failure, address it, and share the learnings openly. We need to actually trust.
And we need to make a point of sharing our failures openly, honestly, and without shame. We need to make failure an expectation of the process of growth. We need to model imperfection, adaptation, and recovery.
Unfortunately for many leaders our desire for control and the insecurity that drives us to maintain a false image of perfection will undermine our potential to delegate, and we will prevent our team and our organization from reaching our potential.
One of the more popular and powerful workshops we offer is Identity and Insecurity. If you think it might be helpful to you and your team please contact us to talk about it.