Lately I have been having a lot of conversations with clients about leadership and delegating.
Delegating is one of the most important things that effective leaders do.
But I have been noticing a stumbling block with some leaders when it comes to delegating that is a bit of a paradox.
Who is the smartest?
1. One of the most common reasons that most people think delegating is hard is because you are better at the thing you are delegating than the person is, so you are afraid it will not come out right. You would like to be able to delegate more, but you don’t trust the person to do a good enough job.
2. Some leaders feel like they should be, and remain the smartest person on the team, because being the smartest and most capable is the thing that will inspire their team.
Do you see the disconnect here?
The way to solve the delegating problem is to hire people who are smarter and more capable than you are, not less.
If you want work to get done, aren’t you better off finding someone who is really great at doing that work? Why would you want someone to help you that is NOT better at it than you are?
If you hire a plumber, a lawyer, an accountant, a dog groomer — you seek to find the person who is best at that job — better than you. Wouldn’t it be terrible if every person that you hired in every service capacity in your life was not as good as you. Imagine your haircut!
So why is it so hard at work to let the people who work for us be better than us?
Make people feel like super-heroes
“Patty, When I worked for you, I thought I was Superman.”
I got that message awhile back from a former employee. It was wonderful to get that message. But additionally, those 10 words sum up for me, in a pretty profound way, what I believe being a good leader of a high performing team is about.
He continued… “I have occasionally reflected on why that was. Not sure I know all the answers, but the things I do know are that the environment was real, the energy was high and the crap was low.”
After getting that message, that idea became my measure of what my job was as a leader.
A leader should make the people on the team feel like super-heroes!
They way you do that is to get people in the right roles, give them important work, hard problems to solve, big decisions to make, then support them, get the crap out of the way, and let them be amazing.
Some managers struggle with this because they feel like they need to be the hero.
The reason this happens is one of values.
When you are an individual contributor, you need to be brilliant at the work itself to stand out. If you are, you get recognized and rewarded for that, and it is what you base your self-worth and self-confidence on.
But when you step into management, and each time you step up a level in fact, the job is a different job. And it’s important not to miss the transition. (I talk about this in my book RISE in the chapter “The Level Dilemma”.)
It is a necessary step in the evolution of a manager at each level to ask the question, what is my value based on now? To myself and to others.
Hint: It is not being the smartest one at doing the detailed work anymore.
What is inspiring?
If you tell yourself that the reason your team will be inspired and value you, is because you are the smartest one in the room… If you get your own sense of value from being the hero and always being the one to jump in and save the day when your team is not up to the challenge, you are not doing the job of a leader.
The job of a leader is to develop everyone else on your team competent enough to do the most important work, to save the day, and to feel like heroes — not claim that spotlight for yourself.
(and keep yourself over-busy because you should be delegating)
As a leader, you need to find satisfaction and base your personal view of what being valueable means to developing a high performing organization, not from being the smartest one on the team.
Think about it this way…
If smart leaders hire only even-smarter people, and those people hire only even-smarter people, the organization gets even stronger and smarter as it grows.
But if a leader wants to remain the smartest person on the team, and only hires people less smart than they are, and so on, the entire organization gets weaker and dumber over time.
The team can never be more capable than the leader. What a shame that is. Your team should make you bigger, you should not make your team smaller.
A leader who tries to do all the important work and make all the important decisions personally eventually stalls out, and is seen as ineffective because organization can’t deliver or scale.
Use your power for good…
If you are indeed the smartest one, that’s OK. But make sure you do not use that skill to make your people feel small.
Give yourself a detailed, technical project that is on the side, that does not interfere with the development of your team.
Use your skills to be a teacher. But be careful to not always be in the position of telling everyone that their work is not good enough and jumping in to fix it.
Teach them how to fix it. Teach them how to develop their skills.
If you can make 10 people as smart as you are (or smarter), you have added way more value to the company than making sure that you remain the smartest.
So back to delegating
As a leader, delegating is your best method for helping people to grow and making them feel like super-heroes.
Give them important work and support them. Don’t micromanage them, but delegate in a way that you have confidence you will get the right outcome.
Don’t think about delegating just as assigning work, but as developing your team.
Delegating = building capacity. Delegating = teaching. Delegating = opportunity to grow.
Be a real hero
What makes a leader a real hero is building highly capable, motivated team that can scale, and letting letting the people on the team be amazing.
What do you think?
Join the conversation about this on my Facebook page Patty Azzarello Practical Business Advice for Humans.