When I was in high school, I was selected to be captain of our dance line group. Beyond learning countless dance routines, that position actually taught me quite a few lessons about leadership. I frequently came home from practice and plopped my tired self down in a living room chair, where I proceeded to express all my frustrations to my Dad. I told him I was absolutely exhausted. He listened with great compassion and insightfully pointed out that I might be taking on too many roles within the group—leader, organizer, scheduler, choreographer. His suggestion: “You really need to delegate.” Those words of wisdom proved that my Dad always knew just the right thing to say at the right time.
Of course, my Mom quickly chimed in with a witty comment about being the Chief Cook & Bottle Washer. She also juggled a wide range of exhausting roles: full-time job and Mom of 6. She handled the roles beautifully by giving me (and my siblings) plenty of chores and responsibilities. There it was again: delegation. This strategy was apparently a great solution for exhausted leaders at home, at work and at school.
Today, some of my management-level clients complain that they can’t keep up the pace of strategizing, planning and implementing all of the work that needs to get done. They have declined opportunities or handed off projects because of sheer exhaustion. In other words, they delegated but only because they were in pure crisis mode. That’s the hard way to learn this lesson.
My goal is to help clients embrace the many benefits of delegation as a leadership strategy while avoiding the panicked, hanging-on-by-a-thread feeling that comes with the realization that we cannot, in fact, do absolutely everything by ourselves. One way or another, leaders eventually have to delegate. And if they don’t, they risk burning out.
I’ve talked to a number of clients in the past few weeks about how they approach delegation and preserve the precious time necessary to lead their teams, create fresh solutions, build relationships and manage innovation. Here are a few of their responses:
Learn to say no to meetings. Well, at least to some of them. Find out the purpose and expectations in advance to determine whether your presence is truly required.
Limit your time commitment. Tell the meeting organizer you can attend for 30 minutes. Then ask which 30-minute segment would be best, based on the agenda.
Send a trusted direct report to the meeting on your behalf. You can’t be in multiple places at one time, but this gets you close.
Organize a stand-up meeting when possible. That format encourages everyone to focus and get to the point much more quickly.
Learn the unique strengths of your team members. Then hand off assignments that are well suited to their abilities so that tasks are completed more efficiently.
Delegate decisions, not just work. When your team members are investigating options, ask them to return with research, recommendations and rationale.
Create development opportunities for key team members by giving them a complete project to handle. If you currently wouldn’t trust any of your team members with a full-scale project, consider what type of developmental experiences they might need to make you feel comfortable delegating to them. Helping them to grow should reduce your workload long-term, providing you with additional time for strategizing and leadership-level duties.
Have you reduced your exhaustion levels by delegating? I’d love to hear about your experiences.