As an Introverted Skeptic moving up the ladder, it can be hard to let go of day-to-day tactical work. You may find it difficult to loosen your grip on the details or feel uncertain how to share your vision so others can align their work with your strategy. It’s essential, however, to delegate and transition more fully from doing to leading. Otherwise, your strategic vision may never get off the ground.
Many leadership roles require you to also do hands-on work, yet failure to delegate responsibility can be a career roadblock. It steals the time and energy needed to lead — to strategize, plan, organize, connect, and develop talent. It’s hard to resist the instinct to pick up the slack or re-do work someone else has done poorly, but you simply won’t have time to lead if you’re doing all the work!
I love to dance, although I don’t claim to do it exceptionally well. I have learned that when I think more about my feet than the rhythm of the music, I get off beat. If I’m dancing with a partner, I am likely to take them off beat with me. It turns into an awkward display.
The key takeaway? When you are leading, don’t watch your feet.
When the music moves you, the dance is a flow and you naturally align with it. Imagine your work as that dance. When you focus on the details and issues (your feet), you aren’t connecting to the strategy or goal (the music.) You lose your focus. Once that focus shifts, the distractions and noise take you off course.
Think of ‘doing’ as learning the steps — you focus on your feet to get the mechanics correct. When you are ‘leading,’ on the other hand, you have a sense of the steps as they relate to the music. You focus ahead, anticipate challenges, and remove barriers as the music changes its tempo.
My coaching clients find it useful to think about their work as $1, $10, and $100 tasks. The value is based upon the complexity or impact of a task. One is not more important than another, but tackling $1 or $10 tasks when you have the ability or need to perform $100 tasks means you’re mis-spending your time and not delivering your full value. You are also taking the opportunity to contribute and grow away from those suited and prepared to do the $1 or $10 tasks.
This approach appeals to those who think of it as optimizing the spend and time for a project. When time and attention is mis-spent on lower value items it delays the completion of the higher value tasks. It may also mean that efforts to focus on strategy, rally needed buy-in, and remove barriers for team members receive too little time and attention.
When you do the work for your team, you are signaling that you do not trust them to meet your expectations. Of course, it’s reasonable to partner in some efforts. However, let’s clearly define working with the team versus doing (or redoing) for the team.
If you have an underperformer, fixing or overlooking their errors isn’t helping them or you. Giving direct and meaningful feedback so they can try again and improve is not cruel when it’s done well. When I worked in HR, I’d often tell leaders that they could be brutally honest — just not honestly brutal. Don’t harm self esteem. Grow their confidence by encouraging them to do better. Explain what better means. If they continue to under-perform because they are not a good fit for the job, address it. No one wins if you bury the issue.
If you have a good or fabulous performer, what is keeping you from delegating? Often, it’s work involving familiar territory where you’re comfortable. Except — it’s not the leader’s role to do all the work. As a leader, you are setting the direction and communicating plans to be successful — and then supporting your team members as they get the work done. Without you showing the path and guiding the way, they are only guessing what is needed. That’s not a recipe for alignment — or success.
If you are buried in the doing, you are not raising your gaze to the horizon to see what is ahead. You, and those around you, don’t get to see what is coming toward you. This results in missed opportunities or — worst case — encountering a crisis otherwise averted.