Leadership characteristics include the courage to override a short-term approach to focus on things that really matter. For a family emergency, most of us would let go of what had appeared just seconds before to be the most important tasks.. We are prepared to delegate our responsibilities and sometimes even drop the ball. It’s allowed because of the importance of the emergency call.
Having a strategic purpose and longer-term approach are considered the staples of a leader. Having a vision helps provide the imperative to delegate for the sake of something that matters.
But what if you don’t have a vision and currently operate in a more emergent way? How can you find the imperative that will enable you to let go and delegate?
Quite simply one way is to see delegation not so much as just a management technique so that “more stuff can get done”, useful as that is, but more as a means of enriching yourself by giving you the space to be more yourself and do the things that are really important to you.
So speaking as an individual the purpose of my delegation is to free up my time for the truly important things – to develop myself, my family, the people I work with and business.
What is the practice of delegation?
- Knowing why you want to delegate. Why do you want to delegate? How do you want to spend your time? If you want to win business or develop a strategy, what actual steps will you take? When will you take the action and with whose help? If you want to make spending more time with your family an imperative, then make it specific. What exactly are you going to do with your family and when? I think it is hard to be an inspiring leader without developing the courage to take specific actions out of your comfort zone for the sake of something that matters.
- Knowing what to delegate. Anything that is not vital for you to do…. and therein lies the challenge. We often think we are indispensable and therefore find it difficult to assess what can be delegated. If our leadership aim is growth then we must delegate everything that will enable others and ourselves to grow and develop.
- Knowing the capability and reliability of those to whom you delegate. Of course we can’t let go of things if the capability is not there. However ‘I must work 12 hours a day to compensate’ doesn’t move anyone forward. You need the courage to spend time building capability whether through coaching and supporting your people or making tough decisions on the appropriateness of your people. Essential to delegation is the ability to balance standards of excellence with empathy. I see those who focus completely on high standards often end up with disengaged teams or working all the hours under the sun or both. Or I see those that focus on listening and understanding, and who are fearful of upsetting others are left doing it all themselves. Finding the balance between aspiration and compassion for yourself and others is the essence of leadership.
- Knowing how to monitor. This is often the missing piece. People think delegation is blind trust and therefore risky. Rather it’s about trusting with intelligence. You wouldn’t continuously check on a person who has the capability and reliability to do the job but you would if the person was new to the task or not performing. Understanding your people is crucial for leaders to get the right level of engagement.
By practising the rudiments of delegation as outlined above you will be building the characteristics of leadership. The process itself will enable you to unlock a vision and engage with others as a leader.
Leaders that inspire me focus on articulating a purpose, help me to connect with it and trust me to support them.
I remember one of the most inspiring leaders I have worked for said to me on my first day:
‘My vision is to create something groundbreaking so that we make the profession more modern and resourceful. I don’t know how we are going to do it. There are tough challenges ahead. What do you want to do?’
‘What do you mean?’ I said. (I had just come from a consultancy environment where although we collaborated we operated under clearly marked hierarchical and structured processes).
‘Well’ he replied. ‘You heard what I want. I know you care about the profession. What do you want to do?’ The ultimate in delegation!
I remember feeling excited by his vision and by his trust. Over the years that I worked for him I learnt that I could be creative and self-reliant. He treated me like a grown up. He was a true leader and inspired me to be a leader. I shall always be grateful to him.