Chapter 9 – Solutions for the Under-Delegator

If you are at all like me, this section should resonate with you.  You see, I credit/blame my fierce independent streak with making me the entrepreneur I am.  I have always preferred the DIY approach, so the idea of building my own business, and thus my own job, always made sense to me.

For our type, though, delegation in the business setting does not come naturally.  This is especially true if your motto is “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.”  The truth is, though, you can learn to delegate well.  You have high standards?  Ok, well that just means that you can’t just delegate anything to anyone.  You need to be a little more organized and deliberate about it, a little more intentional about it, that’s all.  Like hiring, delegation is a skill, and you can learn to be really good at it with a little practice.

Even if we are delegating, we may not be fully delegating.  What I am famous for is letting other people do some of my work functions, letting them flounder a bit, then at the first sign of trouble, swooping in at the last moment to save things.  The problem is, your employees will learn that if things get hard, you will just step in and save them.  As such,  there is no need to really learn how to do the task well.  Or, employees will come to resent you because you never give up your chokehold around a process.  They feel marginalized, so they don’t put forth their best effort, and they blame you for it.

Even though it can be hard to give up control, we must learn to do so for our own good.  Additionally, our staff will never really feel empowered until they feel they have true authority over what they do.  And, true authority means authority and accountability for what they do.  When people know they are playing for real, they tend to give their best effort.  Plus, by allowing people to be truly responsible for what they do, you allow them to feel the reward of a job well done.  Conversely, you also allow them to feel the sting of failure, which will allow them to learn from their mistakes.  Lastly, by making people truly accountable for what they do, the true performers in your organization will rise to the top.

For us under-delegators, the key is to look at the root cause of our condition.  That is, most of us are perfectionists by nature, and by virtue of this trait, we do not trust others to do things as well as we do.  We are hyper-vigilant about anything we put our name on, often obsessing about small details, details that we will probably be the only ones who notice.

Although these qualities can make our work be of exceptionally high-quality almost all of the time, these traits are not healthy.  It has been my experience that we do not act this way because all we care about is doing a good job.  No, what drives us, what we obsess about, is the fear of making a mistake, of failing.  We are so paranoid about making a mistake, or about being wrong in some way, that we intently watch every little detail of what we do, looking for even the slightest possibility of error.  We are scared to death of making a mistake, of doing something wrong.

All of this nervous energy may make us do a really good job at what we do, but it also drives us nuts.  It feeds our stress and makes us crazy.   The antidote to this is pretty simple, though.  And, once you sample some of it you will almost instantly feel relief.  The antidote, of course, is learning to trust.

Now, I am not going to even begin to try and explain why we do not naturally trust other people.  Chances are this little gem is deeply buried in our subconscious.  It could have been put there by a traumatic event in our childhood, or even chronic relationship experiences we had in our past.  Whatever the reason, though, we need to ask ourselves how this view is helping, or hurting, us today.  We need to ask ourselves if this perspective is really true, if all other people are truly inept and untrustworthy.   We need to ask ourselves if the world will truly fall apart if we are not there to micro-manage every little piece.

Of course this is not true.  However, it is often not until we challenge these (sometimes absurd) beliefs that we can actually do anything about our situation.  By exposing these beliefs to the light of reason and reality, we can usually realize how ridiculous they are.  This is the first step in learning to trust others again.

Now, I am not talking about having a knee-jerk reaction of instantly delegating every work responsibility you have to the first person who will take it.  No, becoming an over-delegator will not fix being an under-delegator.  What under-delegators need to do is learn to delegate responsibly.  To hand tasks off to capable hands, trust them to do a good job, but also verify that the job is done well.  Trust does not absolve you of your management responsibility.  However, what trust does is allow you to unwind your spring a bit, which will bring greater sense of ease and pleasantness to what you do.  And although this may not sound like much, to the crazed micromanaging stress-ball business owner, this can make all of the difference in the world.

It is important to remember that you cannot be the expert at everything forever.  When you start bringing on employees, you create the next generation of experts in each given area.  And, as people are the authorities on their own jobs (who else understands a process better than the person doing it every day?); why not put each task in the most knowledgeable, capable hands?  Even though it can be hard to admit, there are people better at certain functions than you, and it is your job to let those people shine.

In addition to learning to delegate tasks to the experts in the given areas, it is also important to learn to delegate some of the finer points of the execution of the task.  That is, perhaps there is a better way to accomplish a particular function to achieve the same (or better) results.  By allowing people to find the best way to achieve a given goal, you not only unleash the hidden creativity inside your business, but you also allow people to do things in their own way, the way they are most comfortable and probably the most effective.  And besides, as long as the end-goal is reached, does it really matter how?  If no one else will notice but you, give people the freedom to do their jobs the way they think is best.  Odds are the results will pleasantly surprise you.

Another thing that can be hard for us under-delegators is giving credit and support to those we delegate to.  It is easy for us to get caught up in the hubris of how much more we have to do than others, or how much more important our work is than other people’s.  The truth is, every function is vital, and people need to know they are doing a good job as much as they need to know when they are screwing something up.  Credit is the most important thing you can share in your business, and by taking the time to recognize the people responsible for the business’ success, you will automatically increase the job satisfaction for every person.

No one likes to feel ignored, and most people will resent someone for stealing their credit.  Fortunately, the opposite is true as well.  People need to be appreciated, so look for opportunities to give credit and kudos.  Now, I am not saying you need to patronize your staff by blowing small or inconsequential items out of proportion.  No, instead I am saying that it is your job as the business owner to be vigilant for opportunities to reward your staff.  It can be so easy for us to get caught up in looking for ways people are making mistakes.  Why not spend an equal amount of time (or better yet, more time) looking for how people are being successful in what they do, and then letting them know about it?  If you do, I promise you will have a healthy, happy workplace, which pays dividends all over the place.  Plus, you just might have a little more fun at work too.