6 Delegation Lessons from Top CEOs
Content was originally published on Inc.com on February 8, 2018.
Delegation grows businesses. It empowers teams to take on more responsibilities and deliver results. In fact, the best leaders are those that train their teams to function without them. Having worked with thousands of business coaching clients, I can say with certainty that the mark of great leadership is the ability to delegate. Nearly all business owners have trouble delegating when they first bring on staff. Even those who know to hand off tasks to their employees don’t let the important work leave their own desks. The trouble is that if you don’t delegate — really delegate — your team will never learn to handle the hard work themselves and your business will never scale. So I’m going to share six leadership lessons to help you start delegating and start scaling.
1. Ask, Don’t Tell (and Certainly Don’t Yell)
A business mentor once gave me an index card and insisted that I keep it on my desk. All it said was: “I don’t know. What do you think?” That mentor went on to sell her business for over $100 million so I figured I should take her advice seriously. Any time one of my employees asked me how to solve a problem, I would just say, “I don’t know. What do you think?” The power of this phrase became apparent quickly.
As great as it felt to have all the answers, solving my team’s problems for them held them back. They stopped trusting themselves and stopped taking initiative. They learned that only one person had the answers: me. And whoever has the answers has the ownership — of the task, the project, the account, whatever.
By asking my staff to generate their own solutions, I helped them discover that they had answers too and thereby gave them confidence to start taking ownership.
2. Drip, Don’t Drown
When you plant a seed, you can’t give it a year’s worth of water all at once. You’ll drown it. Likewise, leaders need to be careful not to drown their teams with feedback.
This has been the hardest lesson for my coaching staff to internalize. We want to help. We want to improve the lives of business owners. But we have to remember that it takes time for a person to process and integrate advice.
When you hold back on the feedback, it may feel like you’re slowing down. But if you give too much at once, you won’t get anywhere. You’ll grow faster and your team will be happier if you drip and don’t drown.
3. Listen and Actually Hear
Many of us have become so good at looking like we’re listening –nodding our heads, wrinkling our brows, making sympathetic sounds of comprehension — that we’ve forgotten to actually hear the person we’re listening to.
The trouble is that no matter how good an actor you are, your team will eventually catch on. They’ll figure out that you’re not really hearing them.
So the next time you catch yourself going through the motions, try to listen and actually hear, regardless of whether you agree with whoever’s talking.
You may just discover that they’ve got a great new idea. Which brings us to…
4. Be Open to New Ideas
It takes a lot of self-assuredness to start a business. And new ideas can often look like distractions. So many of us often assume that our way’s the best way. But if we want to grow our companies, we have to encourage the staff to challenge our assumptions.
So the next time you listen and actually hear a new idea, ask yourself: Is my idea demonstratively better or is it just different?
Over the past few years, I’ve developed a tool with my business coaching clients that helps business owners answer this question. When an employee suggests something new, try assigning both of your ideas scores on a scale from one to ten. If the scores are even remotely close, go with the employee’s idea. Doing so will show your team that you have faith in their answers and their capacities for ownership.
It will also give you the opportunity to coach your employee to solve problems and grow your business without you. Use probing questions to help them clarify what makes their new idea a good one. Help them develop contingency plans for possible failures and measures for their inevitable success.
5. Share When Their Ideas Impact You
After you invite, hear, and open yourself up to new ideas — make sure to give credit where it’s due. Let your staff know that their ideas paid off — even if it’s weeks, months, or years later.
I recently thanked an employee for a recommendation that they made two years ago. They suggested that we make a change to our client-facing app. It took a while for the technology to catch up with their insight and I wanted to make sure they knew — and that they knew that I knew — how far ahead of the curve they were.
In fact, even if you don’t use your employee’s idea, it still pays to let them know that their input inspired you to change your thinking or your approach.
Validating your team’s input makes them feel valued and it also empowers them by showing them that they have answers too.
Once you’ve implemented these five lessons, you’ll be ready to take the final step…
6. Turn to Your Team for Council
Don’t just ask them to find answers to their own questions. Ask them to find answers to yours. When a problem arises, turn to your team for counsel and perspective. Not only will you reap the rewards of their input, but you will also give the team proof positive that you trust them to take ownership and grow the business without you.
While it may feel like you’re losing time implementing these lesson, you will ultimately save time, growing your staff’s ability and confidence, and empowering them to help you grow and scale your business while taking big projects off your desk.
You will also become a role model for the other company leaders and transform the company culture. You will turn your company into a place where people ask for input and perspective. A place where ideas win — not egos. A place where principles rule — not personalities. A place where you and your staff can generate extraordinary results.