“How can I get a life?”December 3, 2022
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In my recent series of blogs, I’ve been sharing some thoughts on the most frequently asked leadership questions I’ve heard from business executives over the past year. In my last article, I discussed the importance of delegating to help leaders have a healthy life outside of work.
The most common question I hear after emphasizing the importance of delegating is, “So how can I delegate better?” It’s a critical question – not only so you can get a life, but also so you can create time for yourself to think strategically, enable your team members to grow professionally, and improve your team’s productivity so your organization can grow and scale.
But delegating can be difficult. Some of the most common reasons are that it’s often hard to “let go,” delegating takes time and sometimes it’s easier to just do it yourself, you may lack trust and confidence in certain members of your team, or you might believe others will resent additional work and you feel guilty piling it on.
What are the keys to overcoming these barriers so you can become a more effective leader? Consider three steps:
- Coach and develop next-level leaders whom you can entrust with increased responsibility
- Learn to apply the “4 W’s” of effective delegation (who, what, why, and when)
- Supervise progress using a cadence that’s appropriate for their level of experience and capabilities
Coach and Develop Next-Level Leaders
The biggest challenge for most leaders when delegating is letting go. It’s natural to want to maintain control. But if you don’t let go of the wheel, your team members will never learn to drive. As a result, you’ll continue to be the bottleneck.
Learning to let go is a process. As an FA-18 flight instructor for many years, I trained hundreds of pilots. When I flew with a new student in the front seat, I had a stick in the back seat for a reason. Primarily, it was there so I could demonstrate how to perform certain maneuvers. Occasionally, I needed to take control of the stick when the student was flying. But I never kept my hand on the stick for an entire flight. The student wouldn’t gain confidence that way, and they would never learn to solo.
To train your next-level leaders to fly solo, start by focusing on what your team needs to accomplish, but let go of the how. In other words, tell them where your team needs to go, but let them figure out how to get there. Then adopt a teacher mindset that’s focused on inspiring courage and confidence. Think about the best teachers you’ve had, and how they brought out the best in you. The best teachers I’ve ever had earned my trust because I knew they had my best interests in mind and were committed to helping me reach my full potential. And they asked great questions that pushed me to think about things in different ways to help lead me to my own conclusions about how to solve problems. To coach and develop your next level leaders, be a teacher, earn their trust, and ask great questions.
Apply the “4 W’s” of Effective Delegation
Once you’ve developed leaders you can delegate to and you’ve learned to let go of the “how,” think about 4 “W’s”:
- Who – Choose the right person to delegate to considering their skills, experience, capacity, and level of interest combined with your overall level of trust in their judgment and abilities.
- Why – Explain the context and background behind what you need help with, and why it’s important.
- What – Summarize what needs to be accomplished, and what success looks like (but avoid the “how”).
- When – Align on an acceptable completion timeline that works for both of you.
Supervise Progress Using an Appropriate Cadence
Delegating is transferring responsibility, but not accountability. Therefore, you’ll need to supervise progress. To do this, schedule regular check-ins that provide opportunities for updates and collaborative problem-solving.
The frequency of your check-ins should be based on their level of experience and your level of trust in their judgment and abilities. Ask questions and avoid the temptation to dictate or direct. Talk about progress, process, and problems. Discuss resources and risks. Be a collaborative problem-solver with a teacher mindset to continue coaching and developing your team members toward greater responsibility.
Delegating can be difficult, but it’s critical for your health as a leader and the overall success of your team. To become a better delegator, double down on coaching and developing your team, focus on the “4 W’s” while letting go of the “how,” and appropriately supervise the tasks you’ve delegated. Although investing in your team members will require more of your time upfront, the return on that investment will be exponentially higher in the form of personal balance and organizational growth.
For more insights on how to delegate better as a leader, check out my book, The Substance of Leadership.