Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Becoming a Lead, Pt. 3 - Delegating

   I've noticed that people new to leadership roles often struggle with the concept of delegating.  Learning to delegate is imperative for a leader.  When you become a lead, you gain responsibility for more than one person can do.  Without delegating, you'll fail to get everything done and likely burn out trying.  Delegating should be easy.  Just tell someone else to do something.  So, why is it that so many people struggle here?

   When one becomes a new leader, he or she is likely to have been an individual contributor in that area prior to the change.  This means that they are an expert.  Many times a new leader is put in charge of less experienced team members.  This sets up an interesting conundrum.  The leader is more capable of doing the individual work than are their reports.  Less experience means less elegant solutions that take more time to implement. 

   If I, as a leader, am able to solve a problem in 2 days that will take someone else 5 days to solve, the tendency is to just solve the problem myself.  In that way, I'll get a better solution, faster.  This is true.  There is a catch though.  It doesn't scale.  If I am responsible for the work of 4 people, I can't work hard enough or fast enough to do it all myself.  I can accomplish any one task faster than my reports but I can't accomplish *all* tasks faster.

   It is important to yield responsibility to those less capable than yourself for two reasons.  The first is that you don't have time to do everything.  In addition to the individual work heaped upon your team, you likely also have managerial tasks to accomplish.  These might include reviews, budgeting, meetings, people development, etc.  There is just not enough time in a day to do all of that and accomplish the work of 4 people.  It is important to realize that 5 days of a report's time might still get done sooner than 2 days of a leads time.

   Second, if you never give responsibility for the hard tasks to the more junior members of your team, they'll never grow.  Why is it that you--the new lead--are able to get the work done so much faster than your reports?  It is because you have more experience.  Giving people responsibility helps them grow.  It may take them 5 days to accomplish the 2-day task this time but next time it will take them 4, then 3.  Eventually they'll be able to do it as well as anyone.

   The key to succeeding in delegation is to give people the opportunity to grow.  This also means giving them the opportunity to fail.  The two are different sides of the same coin.  Growing the skills of your reports will make you successful as a leader.  It will allow the team to take on more ambitious tasks and solve problems in better ways.  A leader doing all the hard work him/herself precludes growth and is thus a prescrition for failure.

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