Delegation and Trust

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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.

What is in it for you?

We all need to earn a living right? There is work to be done and bills to be paid. Unless you are the heir to some fortune; we get up each day and head to work.

But money is not always the primary motivator.

A sense of accomplishment, making a difference, helping others, learning a new task, leading a project, or creative expression tend to be higher on the list for many people.

While coaching someone recently, they paused and asked a direct question.

“What is in it for you?”

Their question made me think about my own motivation and why I do what I do.  I thought about my sentence, or the guiding articulated reason behind a lot of my actions. It helped me develop a reply.

“Helping talented people find the right position that fits who they are.”

But their question was more profound than they perhaps imagined. It remained with me long after our time together. The question spurred others.

Why do we blog?

Why do we consult?

Why do we coach others?

Why do we create?

Sure sometimes it is to make a living, but not all of our hard work generates income. Except for a few rare cases, blogging doesn’t create cash-flow. Not all consulting is on the clock and billable. Not all coaching arrangements come with an invoice. Creativity is not always for the pursuit of an immediate reward.

If you are interested, Dan Pink does a great job of explaining some insight into what motivates us in his book Drive, and below is a 10 minute video summary of the book.

As you contemplate “What is in it for you?” Understanding your motivations and even your sentence may be a good place to start.