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.

It’s Running Itself

You have an idea. You are excited. You tell others. You may even have a plan.

Then something happens. You walk away, and assume that they are implementing your idea, your vision, and your plan. In your mind, “it’s running itself.” Your work is complete, because you not only came up with an amazing idea, your inspired them so uniquely that their motivation, their loyalty, and their efforts were completely aligned with your vision. You did your part, now it is in their hands. You move on to the next big idea.

Don’t hear this wrong. Big ideas are great. We should dream, we should develop ideas, but sometimes the idea or coming up with a vision of what you would like to do, be, or accomplish is the easy part. The more difficult part is making your idea happen. Implementing your vision takes discipline and hard work. Working hard at the daily tasks needed to make your dream a reality is not glamorous.  You have to make sacrifices, and you may even fail.

Discipline can seem overwhelming but you can start small, with just a few minutes each day.  You may be surprised where it takes you, and those around you who usually are tasked with trying to implement your big idea may breathe a sigh of relief.

The “My Way” Blind Spot

We all have blind spots.  You have them, I have them, we all have them.  The hardest part about blind spots is that we do not see them.  I suppose that is why we call them “blind spots.”  When this happens while driving, another car can essentially disappear from view, yet be right beside us. If we turn or change lanes, the damage will be immediate and severe.

When our blind spots are personal, the damage is no less great, but they can occur gradually…almost without our notice.  Until we discover our personal blind spots (typically because someone else points them out) we tend to just plug along not realizing the damage we are causing by this inherent flaw in our perspective.

Recently I discovered that I suffer from the “My Way” blind spot.  This was reluctantly pointed out to me by my team after I wanted a project to be done a certain way.  The banter between them went something like this…

“You mean you wanted it done the “Carl Weber Way?”

“Yeah, it is like Carlito’s Way, only with less violence.”

“Most of the time when you assign a project we will end up doing it your way in the end, even if we have other ideas.”

I was stunned.  I resisted the natural urge to defend myself and just listened.  Arguing about your blind spot is as foolish as turning your car into that crowded lane because you just know there is no car there…while hearing the crash.  Instead I listened.  I really listened.  It became clear that the “My Way” blind spot was real and having an impact on others.  My tendency to delegate without freedom created tension and a lack of trust.  Over time, this can create followers who feel unable to be creative or do things their own way.

Identifying the blind spot was the first step.  The next, and much harder step, is trying to figure out how to change a pattern of behavior that I didn’t know existed.  It will not be easy, but leading well never is.  I will have to check those mirrors a little more often before changing lanes.

What is your blind spot?  Where are you speeding along without seeing what is right beside you?  Are you causing unaware damage?

My advice today is simple: Listen and look.  But be prepared to deal with what you find.