If you’ve been the top dog in a company, department, professional association or just about any other organization of people, you know that being “in charge” is a big drain on your time and energy – at least it is if you’re doing it right.
An engaged leader will soon find their personal life interwoven with the cultural and social fabric of the organization. Basically, you’re “all-in” for the best interests of your company, its stakeholders and your team. The result is endless friction between the personal demands of being human and the professional demands of leading successfully.
Stop off and grab dinner with my spouse somewhere between our respective workplaces? Sure! … as long as I finish these agenda items for the next board meeting in the next half-hour or so.
I really hate that I’ll miss the kids’ cheer competition this Friday; but this association dinner’s been on the books for months now and they’re expecting me to represent the company.
Yeah, I’m sorry, but we’ll have to adjust those vacation dates a little to make room for this conference I need to attend.
‘Sound familiar? Your time and energy can get away from you in a hurry when the weight of responsibility rests on your shoulders!
But what’s to be done about it? I mean, this is my job, and the dedicated people in my organization deserve my best effort, right? Sure, but “I”, “me” and “my” can wear you out and limit your effectiveness to your organization. If only there were more of you!
Here’s the good news. There’s a time-tested leadership practice that will not only allow you to get your life back, but could also make you a more effective leader in the process – the art of empowered delegation.
The Leadership Case for Empowered Delegation
The mention of delegation may conjure up visions of “dropping the pack” because you’ve found a patsy to do that tough job. This behavior is, of course, antithetical to true empowered delegation.
The adjective “empowered” means you don’t just hand off the task; instead, you share a portion of your decision-making (and time investment) with a capable, willing teammate while staying engaged to a healthy degree. Like most things worth doing, it means accepting some risk; but not without the promise of significant reward.
The not-so-good news is that effective empowered delegation can be hard for some leaders to put into practice. Accountability for results can create a “control freak” bent in some leaders, especially when combined with even a small degree of professional insecurity. Leaders like this simply can’t fathom risking their professional reputation to the work of a subordinate.
Here’s the dirty little secret – we’ve ALL felt this bent to some degree. It’s natural in driven professionals to want to maximize their potential for success, but believing you can individually control outcomes in any complex organization is really just a mirage that almost never leads to satisfying results.
This simple comparison chart illustrates what I mean:
Comparison of Approaches
|Leader Controls Outcome||Leader Delegates and Empowers|
|Quality of Work||Dependent on leader’s skill||Shaped by layers of skill|
|Sustainability of Effort||Effort must be expended to drive the team toward desired outcomes||Shared ownership of processes and outcomes builds enduring commitment|
|Team Morale||Effort must be expended by the leader to enhance “on the job” morale in a work environment||Professional growth and achievement drive a higher level of team morale|
|Leader Morale||Taxed through exhaustion||Improved through balance|
Sure, it’s not rocket science; but this little table does illustrate how letting loose of control is important to building enduring success in your professional life as a leader.
Consider that your team may not be getting your best effort now, because your calendar is filled to the brim every day and your availability to them is limited. In fact, even when you’re there, you’re really not – with the effect of round-the-clock activity and awareness robbing them of your attention and sharpness. In these situations, the payoff is huge once you convert from control to empowered delegation. You can read more about the positive organizational results of relinquishing control at Letting Go and Letting Grow, a recent Intrepidity post on this subject.
I believe professional and personal identities really aren’t two distinct lives; but rather two aspects of the same life – yours.
How you take care of yourself directly impacts how you relate to others and how you succeed in the crucible of leadership.
The foundational building blocks of empowered delegation are bilateral trust and confidence. The magic comes when both are exchanged – freely and continuously – between the leader and the team.
- The leader trusts the team and has confidence in their abilities.
- The team is confident in the leader’s competence and trusts the leader’s integrity.
- The leader is self-confident enough to let go of the need to exercise direct control over outcomes.
- The team trusts the leader to “have their backs”, exercising patience and tolerating failure as a step toward success.
- The leader trusts status reports to be accurate and transparent.
- The team is confident they’ll receive required resources and get help in removing barriers to success.
… you get the idea. You can’t just start slicing off chunks of tasks you’re accountable for and divvying them out to your team. The “empowered” part is just as important as the “delegation” part! Empowering someone for success could be as simple as putting them in charge of key team meetings or as complex as providing training on advanced competencies like negotiation or conflict resolution. In all cases, though, empowering someone means sharing your authority with them.
Delegation involves shared responsibility and accountability, of course; but to empower people, delegation also requires the appropriate sharing of authority.
This is the part that takes guts and can test the commitment of even the most well-intentioned leader.
Some Perspective on Implementation
To some reading this, steps to make empowered delegation a reality in your organization are already pulsing through your brain. Others might appreciate some “next steps” to help get started. If you’re in the latter group, I offer the following observations from seeing successes and failures in a diverse collection of organizations.
- Trust and confidence are symptoms of your work culture. Whether you like it or not, you’ve already established a level for both – good or bad.
- It’s not too late to change that level, but it’ll require patience and intentionality.
- Plan the intentional steps to build bilateral trust and confidence in your team first, then share them with a trusted colleague for feedback.
- Remember, empowered delegation is a two-way street. Much will be expected of you by the team as their leader; but the team must also understand they’ll be expected to optimize the trust and resources you’ll bring to them for enhanced results.
- Clearly and openly communicate mutual expectations. The team should not only hear your words, but also see your purpose and feel your humility.
- Assume the role of “executive champion” for the cause. This keeps you associated with the effort and leaves the team feeling they can always count on you.
- You can’t fake this, so don’t even try.
Balance is more than a “feel good” sentiment or a matter of your own personal mental health; it’s a catalyst of sustainable success at work and a lifetime of happiness.
… and who doesn’t want those?
Read more about the basics (and some “how to” stuff) of this concept in an earlier post
“The Six Behaviors That Turn Delegation Into Empowerment” on Intrepidity!