I used to give an assignment to leaders and supervisors at the end of a session.
“Go back to your organization and find a project to delegate down to someone else.”
The reason for the assignment was simple. We had discussed the importance of conveying trust in others and to build their capacity within the organization. We reviewed some some key points from Dan Pink’s book Drive and discussed how delegating projects would resonate with the key drivers for all employees: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose.
Weeks or months later, I would check in with these leaders. Almost no one delegated a project.
I asked why.
“You don’t understand, I got back to the office and am so busy, I just couldn’t find the time to sit down with someone and explain it, it was easier to do it myself.”
“They wouldn’t do it right anyway, and when you think about it, I was saving them from failing.”
“I need this done a certain way, and don’t want to worry about if it is done right.”
The lists, and the excuses kept coming. For the few leaders that did delegate projects, many of them picked the worst project on their list and passed that down to someone.
Each excuse was almost a direct hit against the primary drivers for employees.
Autonomy – people want some self direction and control over their working environment which may mean taking on projects and doing it their way. Lack of delegation sends the message that you are in complete control and there is no room for others to develop their own way or style.
Mastery – people want to be good at things, and that means trying new things, working on new projects that develop and refine skills over time. Lack of delegation keeps their skills shallow, and maintains your expert status.
Purpose – people want to feel like their work matters, and their time is meaningful and makes a difference. Lack of delegation makes others feel unimportant, and worse conveys that you do not trust them or value them and their contribution.
I had to change the assignment.
“Within 2 weeks, find the project or assignment is BIG and IMPORTANT that would give you the most satisfaction, organizational recognition, and reward and delegate that one. AND find your partner here today and tell them about this project then call each other each week to ensure it is delegated.”
At first you could have heard a pin drop.
The big and important one? YES!
The one that would give the most rewards? YUP!
Now when I check in with these leaders I hear a different story.
“It was pretty scary to give up a big project like that, but I was surprised, they took it on and completed it. They seem more energized and are looking for the next project.”
“They went in a different direction then I expected and that made me worry, but the result was better than expected and frankly maybe better than I would have been able to do.”
“Not only are these employees taking on more projects and responsibilities, I find that I have more time to do my core job and I am less frantic and busy.”
So the choice as leaders is simple. You can keep everything to yourself (most likely out of fear and control) or you can learn to pass down important projects and assignments. When you choose to keep it, you convey a lack of trust and your work will continue to be hectic and busy. When you choose to pass projects to others, you convey trust and importance in others, and build their capacity.
One leader candidly expressed their fear in doing this.
“What if I delegate these important things down, and my employees become better at these things than me? Won’t I be working myself out of my job?”
My response was simple.
If you are the kind of leader that can build the capacity of teams in a way that you are no longer needed, you most likely have a much larger and more important career as companies will pay a lot to replicate that in their organization.