Learning to Let Go and Delegate

One of my favourite memories as a leader was when a young employee I was increasingly relying on for more important and challenging tasks told me, “You know, Randy, I’m not qualified to be doing half the tasks you’re giving me.” I could tell by her tone and body language that, while she enjoyed the challenges I was providing, she also wanted to ensure that I knew I was trusting her with important tasks that she hadn’t been formally trained to do. My response to her was that I trusted her and believed in her abilities, and that she shouldn’t worry so much about her perceived lack of “qualifications” because I wasn’t. Throughout her time with us, she excelled and proved herself capable of every task I gave her.

I have always seen developing others as one of my most important responsibilities as a leader. And I have learned that one of the best ways to foster development is by delegating meaningful and important tasks to others. When we delegate these sorts of tasks, it says “I trust you” and “I value you.” In my experience, when I show that I trust and value others, they rise to the challenge of the task. However, that does not mean that I delegate freely or without thought – particularly when I am unfamiliar with a person and the task is crucial to our function as an organization.

I have been the senior leader within our organization and have overseen our marketing efforts since our inception. In conversations with others, I’ve learned that it’s not an area most leaders delve into or hold up as important enough to merit much of their attention. As such, marketing is often delegated to less senior staff. I, however, have always enjoyed my role in our marketing efforts and firmly believe that branding and marketing are critical for organizational success. But after close to 15 years of leading these efforts, it was time for me to let go.

While I had already entrusted some of my other tasks to people over the years, they were only those I hadn’t been as passionate about – and some I even disliked. In other words, letting go was easy. Usually the person I was delegating the task to was excited about the opportunity and ended up doing a much better job with it than I had been. However, letting marketing go was different for me – for one, I really like doing it; and two, I’m really good at it. As a result, letting go, although it has been a slow process, was a new and sometimes difficult experience for me.

This may beg the question of why I am letting this go.  After all, if I like it and am good at it, what’s wrong with keeping on doing it? In my first book, The Ordinary Leader, I make the point that “A leader’s greatest area of strength risks becoming an organization’s greatest weakness when [they refuse] to let go at the right time. All tasks need to be candidates for possible delegation. Just because we like to do something, and we’re good at it, doesn’t mean we should continue doing it” (Grieser 2017, 150).[1]

Overseeing our marketing efforts takes a large amount of time, and it would have gotten in the way of other tasks had I continued doing it. In collaboration with the rest of our leadership team, we had determined that, right now, the greatest benefit I can give our organization is spending more time focused on writing and speaking – not marketing. And to do these two areas well, I needed to let go of marketing.

I’ve learned a few things along the way that may be helpful as you consider letting go of tasks that you are both good at and enjoy, and even those you don’t:

Assess the level of interest

Staff will usually be excited when they are selected for a task – they should feel empowered by you asking them.  If they are not interested or only express lukewarm interest, it may be an indicator of a larger issue related to workload, aptitude, or what brings them satisfaction. Before delegating, make sure they are committed and on board with the task.

Educate

Be sure the person you are delegating the task to knows not just what you are doing but why you are doing it in the way you are. Share the key insights you’ve learned and the history of why certain decisions regarding how the task functions were made.

Go slowly

Instead of handing over everything all at once, take small steps – make sure the person you are delegating to becomes fully comfortable with one area of the overall task before adding another. This is particularly important for larger and more complicated tasks.

Be open-minded

Recognize that the person you are delegating the task to may have some new ideas that are actually good and should be implemented. It’s natural for people looking at something for the first time to have fresh ideas you haven’t even considered – this is a positive thing. When new ideas are implemented and if they work, celebrate that success.

Express confidence

Let the person know that you believe in them and their ability to do the task. People typically live up to – or down to – the expectations we place upon them.  One of the most powerful ways to build confidence is to express your positive expectations.

 

Letting go of something you like to do and are good at is rarely easy, but when done right, it can be a win-win for everyone. It frees up time for you to focus on what’s most important in your role as a leader, and it helps develop and empower those you are delegating to.

[1] Grieser, Randy. The Ordinary Leader: 10 Key Insights for Building and Leading a Thriving Organization. Winnipeg, MB: ACHIEVE Publishing, 2017.


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Randy Grieser, Author, Speaker

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