Leadership Move #4: Get Things Done by *NOT* Working on Them

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Some ideas improve when we restate them in an upside down manner.

To that end, several years ago I wrote a piece titled, “Capable of Doing versus Paid to Do.” The idea behind it is that while there are probably a lot of things you’re able  to do at work, there are some things that ONLY you can do. The point was that your time and talent are best used when working, as much as possible, on the things that no one else, but you, can do.

As counter-intuitive as it may seem, this means that, while one way to get things done is by doing them yourself, but a far better way – especially for leaders – is by not working on them, that is, empowering others to get it done. Indeed, the mark of a good leader is when his/her team’s performance holds steady, or even improves, when the boss is out sick, on vacation, or promoted out of the area.

The Power of Effective Delegation

To do that, though, you need to have top-notch delegating skills, even though learning the ins and outs of effective delegation can be quite challenging.

Yes, the learning curve is admittedly steep. You have to know, as example, how to:

  • Accurately determine if something can, or should be, delegated (Make a point of letting your boss know why you’re delegating to whom so you get credit for taking an interest in developing your team members.)
  • Appropriately determine to whom you can delegate. (Look for abilities and desires of the team member you are delegating to, and puleeeze, do NOT force a project on a high performer if they do not really want it!)
  • Effectively articulate precisely what it is that you’re delegating and what outcomes you require.
  • Sufficiently monitor progress – and request ‘unsolicited updates from the delegatee – so that you know if things are going wrong before it’s too late.
  • Ably mop-up should they go wrong, anyway.
  • Meaningfully debrief with the delegatee afterwards, good or bad. (Make sure you give the recognition for what went right and not place blame if something went wrong. After all, it’s still YOUR responsibility for whatever happened. Also, ask for input regarding how the experience felt for the person: How did they enjoy the experience? What did they learn about getting things done? What did they learn about themselves? What would they likely to differently the next time? (And other open-ended questions like that.)

These are no small shakes. But delegation not only helps better position your work group to dramatically increase their capability, throughput, productivity, and morale, it frees you up to:

(a) Work on the things that ONLY you can do; and
(b) be less of an organizational bottleneck, as so many well-intentioned bosses are.

You (Plural) versus You (Singular)

Effective Delegation really IS a Silver Bullet. Done poorly, not so much. But done well, ABSOLUTELY it is!

Because the true power of effective delegation is that it allows more to get done by you (plural) than you (singular) ever could … which makes ‘Getting Things Done by *NOT* Working on Them’ a very powerful Leadership Move, indeed.

What tips and techniques do YOU recommend for improving one’s delegation skills?

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2 thoughts on “Leadership Move #4: Get Things Done by *NOT* Working on Them

  1. Karol Taylor (Watson)

    Great insight from a great leader. I was thinking about you the other day and wondering how you were doing. Clearly the answer is that you are doing well.

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