The Fine Art of Delegating
Bringing almost any project to fruition involves delegating. Whether you are running a company or a community project or, for that matter, part of a family household, being a one-person show generally won’t do. While sharing responsibility for getting things done might seem natural and even a relief, it isn’t as easy as it sounds. It turns out to be an art.
Think of the CEO or Founder of a company. The responsibility for the success of the venture—which may even have been that leader’s idea—ultimately rests with him or her. Leading is going to require creating a team and then empowering that team to take on the multitude of tasks necessary to deliver a service or produce a product and then sell it in a way that is profitable. It requires delegating.
Lots of resistors can gum up the circuitry involved in delegating, however. The leader may feel so attached to his or her vision, or so anxious about it being successful, that what the leader is really asking for every element of the work to be done exactly the way he or she would do it. But people generally don’t operate that way (thankfully). Valuable collaborators take ownership in their work and seek to be creative in executing it. Making such talented individuals mimic a leader, guess at his or her intentions or worry excessively about not bringing back work that is too “original” can short-circuit creativity and dispirit creative minds.
It is common for leaders to delegate, but then to quickly judge the work product they receive and do the work themselves, anyhow—even if the work is worthy. And that’s just one of the reasons that leaders often need to reflect on themSELVES and discover if there are reasons, sometimes events in their earlier life experiences, that led them to inherently distrust the work of others. As incredible as it may sound, one CEO and I discovered that her getting a “D” on a group project in middle school, when her team didn’t come through for her with the work they had promised, was a significant element in her being too ready to take over group processes in the company she had launched.
It isn’t just CEOs. A father I worked with was at odds with his son about the completion of a renovation project on their house. He felt he had been very clear with deadlines and expectations and was paying his son for his help. But he kept stepping in so frequently to point out how the work ought to be done, and at what pace, that his son “quit.” It didn’t take long to figure out why the project ended up in conflict: The father had himself been judged harshly by his own dad—in many different instances; the modeling of a father-son relationship was “off.” In order to not reproduce that toxic dynamic, I had to help my client revisit his flawed relationship with his dad and express feelings about it that he had buried—for decades.
Can it really be the case, you might wonder, that someone running a billion-dollar company could be less effective as a delegator because of a toxic dynamic in that CEO’s childhood, youth or adolescence? It truly could be and often is. That is the power of the past—when it goes unexamined—to contaminate the present and the future.
The good news: Our life stories are never beyond our understanding and, therefore, we never lose the opportunity to write powerful chapters in the future, clear of issues from the past. That’s what Pain-2-Power is all about.
Dr. Keith Ablow