Keep in mind that if you take an exceptional person and give them 10 things to do, you may find that little is accomplished. Give an exceptional person a few focused items to complete with a clearly expressed deadline, and you are likely to find it all gets completed. Many companies have organizational charts, but how many have a well-defined responsibility matrix?
When in charge, ponder. When in trouble, delegate. When in doubt, mumble.
~ James Boren
The Full Scoop
Originally published through the opens in a new windowTampa Bay Business Journal Leadership Trust
James Boren was known for his use of humor and political satire. He had a lofty goal to reform bureaucracy and summarized a bureaucratic principle he referred to as Dynamic Inaction by stating, “When in charge, ponder. When in trouble, delegate. When in doubt, mumble.”
While this statement is meant to be comical, it appears to aptly summarize the approach used by some people in positions of leadership. Some seem to survive indefinitely within an organization by subtly side-stepping their way out of the proverbial hot seat.
Delegating is often cited as the solution to many ills faced by those in positions of leadership. When I hear the oft-uttered phrase “just delegate” after facing a challenging situation, it is hard not to feel frustrated. Delegating successfully is one of the greatest challenges faced by those in positions of leadership. Is it necessary? Yes. Is it easy? Absolutely not. You need the right people, and you need to apply the correct steps and process.
A colleague of mine once relayed an experience they had while volunteering at a nonprofit. One day an individual came to see them, but had been misinformed on the level of service they could provide and became irritated. My colleague was in the same building volunteering at the time but was unaware of the situation taking place and was approached by a supervisor who told them sternly to get rid of the individual because he was busy, and then walked away. My friend was left speechless and had to handle the situation as best they could, on their own and without support or direction.
This is not delegating; this is dumping. There is thoughtful delegation, and then there is dropping a challenging situation on someone else. Now I don’t pretend to know what this particular leader was facing. No doubt they had a lot on their plate and were feeling overwhelmed. But in those stressful moments, please realize there is a lot at stake beyond the immediate situation at hand. Leaders don’t dump problems on other people, especially not without the proper tools.
If you wish you could delegate more, the issue may not be you. Great employees are easy to delegate to, and some less-than-exceptional employees are not. You take on a lot and deliver results, and you are self-motivated — that is why you are so busy. A popular proverb reads, “If you want something done, give it to a busy person.” Busy people are the lifeblood of any organization: They deliver results. They care. And they figure out the hard to figure out stuff. We all love busy people, and if you have a few on your team, work hard to keep those busy people around. Take care of and love your busy people.
If you wish to delegate more successfully, consider the following:
Is the person you’re delegating to a “busy person,” someone who takes ownership of issues and responsibilities? If they are not naturally a busy person, is that because you simply are not assigning work to them, or are they just not taking action? A follow-up reminder here and there is fine, but the constant need to badger is a sign of a broader issue. When you delegate, do they have the budget, training, competence and positive support they need to be successful?
Delegating is part art and part science. It is matching the right skills to the right person who is already self-motivated and competent. Your responsibility as a leader is to give them training and support so that they can be successful. I was once told the story of a business owner who ran an exceptional organization. A friend visiting him observed that his desk was always clean, and his phone was never ringing off the hook. He was always calm and collected. How did he run such a well-oiled organization? “I hire great people,” was his reply. He hired great people, and they helped him to run a great organization.
If you are finding it hard to delegate, take a look at the people within your organization. Is the issue that you really are not giving them opportunities? Maybe you are, but you want them to do it the way you would, which of course they cannot do, at least not perfectly. If so, muster up the necessary trust, and begin to make more assignments. Focus more on the end result and less on the means by which they accomplish it. Remember, there is more than one way to skin a cat. Is the issue the method by which you are delegating? Are you dumping problems? Remember to not dump impossible situations on people. Your role as a leader will often be to say no to a request your team is not in a position to solve. Protect your people.
If you have followed this counsel and failed, there may be some hard decisions to make, and the issue really may not be you. You not only have to be willing to delegate, but you also need to have the right people on your team. You need to hire and retain individuals to whom you can give the trust and support they need to succeed.
As you follow these principles, I am confident you will be able to exponentially expand your team’s capabilities, and delegating will become less of a frustration and more of an empowering tool you can use to succeed.