“I’ll just do it myself.”
We all say this from time to time as we rationalize our decision to take on additional work tasks and responsibilities. We may tell ourselves that it’s faster to just complete the task than to explain the process to someone else. At times, we fail to delegate due to lack of trust in the quality of a team member’s help. The success of the project may seem too risky to leave in another’s hands. Other times, we intentionally choose not to delegate because we love the task itself. While giving up control over critical projects can be a stressful experience, when done effectively the result is a more knowledgeable, balanced, and engaged workforce.
Leaders who delegate effectively are able to spend their time more wisely on defining strategy, creating and communicating a vision, building effective relationships across the business, and collaborating on higher level initiatives. Teams with leaders who have effectively trained and empowered them to be successful find more meaning in their work, solve problems effectively, think more creatively, and have less turnover than teams who experience micromanagement.
High performers turned first-time leaders often struggle the most with delegation. Part of the problem is the lack of management training for frontline leaders. But addressing control issues in leadership takes more than skills training. The core problem may be deeper than trust, communication, or workload.
I recently met with a leader who was experiencing the worst performance of his career. It wasn’t for lack of effort, though. It seemed as though his year was a series of unfortunate events where luck never seemed to go his way. I was interested in how he stayed so engaged despite the challenges, so I asked him what he did this year that he enjoyed. Suddenly, he lit up while telling stories about the problems he solved and the key role he played in a few projects. He said he really enjoyed “getting his hands dirty” and working amongst his team.
After a bit of conversation, it was clear that he didn’t actually enjoy “getting his hands dirty,” nor was it necessary. By his own admission, the team was highly talented and had plenty of bandwidth to complete all of their projects without his involvement. The truth was he needed to take on unnecessary work activities so he could experience a win. His day was routinely full of disappointments and setbacks. He needed to feel like he was making a valuable contribution and taking control of the team’s deliverables became the one positive thing he could look forward to each day.
Of course, the net effect was the team felt underutilized, and he failed to drive the team forward by adjusting his strategy. What he had rationalized as the valuable contribution he’d been making all year was actually a distraction from the effort he needed to place on fixing the big picture problems.
When times are tough and the barriers seem insurmountable, it is especially challenging to find motivation to persevere. Doing more things that generate energy can be an effective coping technique, but not when it becomes a distraction from addressing the core problems. It takes both emotional intelligence and strong self-awareness to recognize when making a positive contribution takes an unfortunate turn towards work hoarding. To stay on track, leaders should constantly ask themselves, “Am I making the best use of my time/energy, and am I making the best use of my team’s talents?”