4 Reasons to Relax That Grip
It started with my first day on the job. I’d just been named senior leader at a growing organization with a generously-sized staff. Yet there were problems, as there are in any institution, and I was determined to solve them. All of them. Right away.
Communications was a weak point, so I decided to personally review all public messaging—from the website to the e-newsletter to property signage. I’d been an editor for years, so who better cast our public voice?
And the staff, though talented, seemed to lack unity and a common objective. So I instituted daily stand-up meetings, a weekly staff meeting, and one-on-ones in which I prescribed tasks and carefully monitored progress.
And it was all good, for a while. Until I realized that I had only 168 hours in each week, many of which were needed for sleep. Attempting to supervise every aspect of the organization was running me ragged, not to mention frustrating the team. About a month later when I took my first day off, a profound question occurred to me: “Are you really the best person to do all these tasks?” That led to an even more enlightening question: “What could you be doing instead?”
Stifled by limiting beliefs
Like many leaders, I’d embraced two flawed notions identified by social science research: “faith in supervision” and “self-enhancement bias.” According to the research, most of us tacitly assume that (a) things will be done poorly unless we keep a close eye on them, and (b) we can do it better ourselves.
That mistaken thinking suffocates leaders beneath massive to-do lists and burdens staff members with unnecessary oversight. Effective leaders avoid being hamstrung by their ego and multiply effectiveness by involving others. To do that, they must replace four limiting beliefs with four liberating truths.
Limiting belief: Without my direct involvement, the outcome will suffer.
Liberating truth: Freeing others to act produces better results.
My son served in the U.S. Marine Corps, including tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. When he chose a civilian career in law enforcement, I assumed he would find a familiar culture. Not so. “Here we have procedures for everything,” he explained. “In the Marines, nobody cared how you accomplished the mission as long as it got done.”
Over-supervision kills creative thinking. If your staff’s only responsibility is to do exactly what you tell them to, they have no reason to think, take initiative, or overcome obstacles.
While some standardization is necessary in most organizations, wise leaders prescribe outcomes, not methods, thereby releasing others to find creative solutions.
Limiting belief: I can do it better myself.
Liberating truth: Others will gladly supply the skills I lack.
Self-enhancement bias, or the leader’s belief that they are the most qualified person for any task, is nearly universal. It’s also mistaken.
Justin Kruger and David Dunning’s landmark 1999 study revealed that less-skilled people generally believe they are highly competent, while highly skilled people often believe others are just as qualified as they are, or more so. The truth is, there’s always someone smarter and more capable than we are. Wise leaders readily admit that.
Hoarding tasks that others can do, often better, is a sign of arrogance. Inviting others to use their talents improves productivity.
Limiting belief: When I allow others to do my work, I become irrelevant.
Liberating truth: Delegation frees me to do the things only I can do.
The fear of losing one’s place, often manifested as a desire to be needed, creates a bottleneck in the organization. The solution is to release control whenever possible.
As former secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld said, “If a matter is not a decision for the President or you, delegate it. Force responsibility down and out. Find problem areas, add structure and delegate. The pressure is to do the reverse. Resist it.”
Delegate the things that anyone can do, and reserve your precious energy for the things only you can do. What is your unique value to the organization? Whenever possible, don’t do anything else.
Limiting belief: If I share power, I will lose it.
Liberating truth: Delegating authority extends my reach.
The holy grail of leadership is multiplication. That happens when leaders both communicate vision and delegate authority. Craig Groeschel said, “When you delegate tasks, you create followers, but when you delegate authority, you create leaders.” When others own your vision and values, you can trust them with the authority to act. By doing so you multiply yourself.
What’s holding you back?
False beliefs limit our effectiveness. And at the root of each false belief is a fear: fear of failure, fear of irrelevance, fear of subversion. Strong leaders call out those fears and the mistaken thinking that mask them. That process begins with honest self-assessment and openness to change.
So when it comes to delegation, what fear is holding you back?
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