In the last week, I’ve had three different conversations with three different executives on the subject of delegation. These leaders are in different industries and different positions. One is a CEO, two are VPs. They all have the same challenge: What and how to let go so that they can attend to the more strategic matters in their organizations. They all are hesitant to delegate.
And I get it. Being hands-on has gotten all three to where they are now, to their elevated roles. They’ve not just succeeded, but thrived, on being in the weeds, putting out fires, being the go-to, the person who has delivered results.
The only problem is, those skills, while very important to their current success, will inhibit their future trajectory. In these new leadership roles, they must be able to take an aerial view, step back, assess, see the bigger picture, chart a course, bring others along with them, manage key relationships, markets, and numbers.
And that means delegating some of the responsibilities that got them where they are. Some of the things they’ve worked really hard for and have been really good at.
When I interviewed Glen Tullman, former CEO of Allscripts and current CEO of Livongo Health, for The Making Magnificence Project®, he spoke to the crucial importance of delegating what he calls “real responsibility.” (You can read more about Glen’s leadership story in my book, Magnificent Leadership, due out in January.)
So, what does real delegation look like? Here are the 4 key elements that I suggest to clients:
- Determine WHAT can be let go. Take a hard look at where and when you’re in the weeds. Unnecessary meetings might be at the top of the list. One of my clients was spending 20 hours a week sitting in meetings where they weren’t needed for either decisions or input.
- Assess the landscape for WHO on your team can take on some of these responsibilities. In the case of those meetings, we found a deputy on the team who was more than capable to attend, participate, and then report in on critical matters. As you take a look at your team, be sure to ask team members where they think they can, and want to, take on additional responsibility. You’d be surprised at what comes back.
- Next, begin to transfer responsibility with – and this is key – guardrails in place. HOW will the transfer occur? Gradually or at once? At a minimum, set expectations in the following areas: key responsibilities, check-ins (micro – how did a particular task turn out – and macro – how is this new responsibility going), key performance expectations, and deadlines. Encourage autonomy but make it clear that you’re available for questions and support. And, be sure to establish what circumstances warrant a check-in with you before proceeding. What throws up a caution flag before moving forward ? This third element of delegation is crucial. It creates safety, reassurance, and parameters for both the leader who’s delegating and the team member who’s taking on new responsibility.
- Know the WHY of letting go. Recognize what you, as a leader, still want to be connected to, regardless of what responsibilities you relinquish. If you want to have a finger on the pulse of the heartbeat of your organization – your people — how can you accomplish that without being in the weeds? Can you hold town hall meetings, company-wide conference calls, have an open door policy that keeps you in touch with their concerns, ideas, and aspirations? Maybe you still want to be client-facing and have a sense of market reception. How can you do that in a way that minimizes your labor but gets you the information and connection that you seek?
In many ways, letting go of key responsibilities means letting go of one’s own prior success to stretch to new heights.
A daunting task, for sure.
But I tell clients to try it anyway, to take measured steps.
Because there are even bigger things on the horizon that require their talent, attention, and leadership.
I work with CEOs and senior executives to optimize leadership performance to greatest organizational impact. If you’d like to have a mutually exploratory conversation about working with me in Q1 of 2018, you can reach me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
And if your national conference or leadership summit calls for a keynote speaker who’s described as engaging, inspiring, and real and relevant, you can reach me at email@example.com
I’m booking well into 2018, and my most popular keynote is the subject of my forthcoming book:
Magnificent Leadership — Transform Uncertainty, Transcend Circumstance, Claim the Future