Do you have trouble delegating? Regular readers of this column know that I do. It turns out, that's a good sign. "Really talented people who have lots of ideas and are likely to become leaders tend to have trouble with delegation," says leadership expert Laura Gail Lunsford, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology, University of Arizona. "It's because they have really high standards and want to make sure everything is done right," she says.
But that doesn't mean it's OK for you to just go ahead and do everything yourself. Instead, Lunsford says, you need to recognize the thought patterns that are holding you back from handing off tasks to other people, and fight those habits whenever you encounter them.
Here are some not-so-valid objections that tend to hold you back from sharing the load with the people who work for you:
Delegating takes too much time.
It's absurd, if you think about it, that when you're overloaded with work, getting someone else to help could be a bad thing. Yet I've fallen into this trap and I bet you have too. It's easy to feel like an idiot if you spend two hours teaching someone how to do a task that would only take 30 minutes if you did it yourself. So you have to take a long view, Lunsford says. "It is true that it takes time to teach a skill--the first time," she says. But the second, third, and fourth time the same job comes up, you'll start seeing time savings when someone else--who now knows how--can take it on with minimal effort on your part.
Lunsford advises getting an idea of the true time savings by figuring out how many times the same task will come up in the future. "Ask yourself how much time it will save in the coming month or year," she suggests.
It won't be done the way I would do it.
This objection can lead to trouble because it often turns out to be true. "Someone who's trying to learn to delegate may have something in mind but may not communicate it well to the person taking on the task," Lunsford says. When the task then isn't done right, the person who did is likely to get blamed. "It's not a good experience for anyone involved."
Instead, she suggests focusing on outcomes and making sure the subordinate taking on the task understands its purpose in the scheme of things, and the desired end result. And then face the fact that it may not matter exactly how the job is done as long as that end result is achieved.
I'm the only one who knows how.
Sometimes leaders trust their team members, but not their expertise, Lunsford says. If that's the case, you can overcome the problem by having the person take small steps, completing portions of the task and checking in frequently. That way, if something goes wrong it will happen on a smaller scale.
She also recommends ending the conversation by asking subordinates when they'll deliver which portions of the job. (Fight the urge to tell them, she stresses--make them tell you.) If they can't give you a clear answer, that may be a sign that the job is indeed too much for them and you may have to provide extra support.
If someone else learns this, I won't be needed anymore.
The fear of delegating oneself right out of a job is a real one for both employees and entrepreneurs, Lunsford says. And it may make you feel both important and needed to be the only one who can do a given task. But--is having you do that task really the best thing for your company as a whole? "Leaders should spend their time on the organization's vision, and on cultivating relationships," Lunsford says. If you're spending time on jobs someone else could do, those more important roles are likely getting neglected.
I don't want to give this task up because it's fun.
All leaders have lower-level tasks they enjoy doing once in a while. But if you're doing too much of the easy stuff is it really because you enjoy it or is it because it's just that--easy? "Failure to delegate is another form of procrastination," Lunsford says. "You may want to do what's familiar and comfortable and put off tasks that are difficult and complex. The harder tasks may feel less rewarding."
Giving in to this temptation is a bad idea if you want you and your organization to grow and mature. "You need to be doing the work that's more ambiguous and more frightening," she says.
I've always done it this way.
If you've been a leader for a while, chances are you've got ingrained habits that may seem tough to change. But it may not be as difficult as you think. "Delegation is a skill, and people can learn it," Lunsford says. "Most habits get developed in six weeks. If leaders really do want change their delegation skills, it's a habit that could set for themselves within six weeks."
And then they'll have time to become more thoughtful and more strategic, she says. "Delegating well frees the leader, and thus creates a much healthier organization."
Like this post? Sign up here for Minda's weekly email and you'll never miss her columns. Next time: Stop giving so much and other ways to be happier.