Delegating work is one of the most endlessly challenging things a leader can do. Leaders at any level in an organization can struggle with decisions about entrusting others to do some of the work they’re hanging on to.
The simple truth is that you must delegate some work in order to do the work you’re be paid to do. That promotion into the position you’re in is contingent on your ability to step up to it. And your next promotion won’t happen unless you prove that you can master this job and show that you are ready for that next level.
The leaders I’ve known over the years have provided a rich storehouse of excuses for not delegating. Here are the top ones and some counterpoints to them:
“Everyone is very busy. I don’t want to overburden them.” This is a popular excuse. Yet you may be unhappy that you’re spending too much time doing things they could do. Your employees might appreciate doing something different, or new or challenging. Help them to prioritize their workloads and find the time to do the things you know you should delegate but don’t.
“It’s easier to do it myself.” That might well be true. It takes time and effort to teach someone to do something; and to do it well could take time. Yet here you are, being paid (fill in the dollar amount) a year to do higher-level work, to train and develop your employees, and you’re still doing something that should be done at a lower level in the organization. Train someone to do it, and you have time freed up to do things that will make a bigger impact.
“Nobody else can do it as well as I can.” Even if it’s true, it doesn’t make sense for you to continue to do it. If you’re feeling overburdened, behind the eight ball and unable to dig out of the pile of work you have to do, this is not a great excuse. Surely, you can let go of your expectation of perfection (meaning that you expect someone else to do it exactly as you have) to allow someone else to have a chance at it.
“My manager expects me to do this.” Is that true? How do you know? Did you ask him or her if they expect you to do it, or do they really just want it done by someone? Chances are you’re making an assumption that your manager expects you to do this task, so why not ask? You might be pleasantly surprised to find out that they actually want you to cease being transactional and become more transformational by delegating the stuff someone else can do.
“I tried delegating it to someone once. They screwed up.” Perhaps they didn’t do it exactly the way you wanted. Maybe the direction you provided was unclear. Or they may need some ongoing coaching and course corrections to do it well. Perhaps this person wasn’t well-suited to the specific work you wanted done. Find someone who can do the work, be clear about your expectations, hold them accountable and coach them through it.
“I like doing it.” Ah, the hardest excuse to counter. However, if whatever you’re doing is keeping you from being the best leader you can be, you need to let go of it and find someone else to do it.
The organization is expecting you to spend your time doing things appropriate to the level you lead at. As a leader, you’re expected to do the things that provide bigger impact. With your head in the weeds, how can you lift yourself up and begin to set a vision, influence others and be an agent of change unless you let others do the work that you are no longer suited for?
What’s your excuse?
Mary Jo Asmus is an executive coach and a recovering corporate executive who has spent the past 10 years as president of Aspire Collaborative Services, an executive-coaching firm that manages large-scale corporate-coaching initiatives and coaches leaders to prepare them for bigger and better things.