Almost every manager can tell a story of a delegation gone horribly wrong. We gave a task to a team member, and they dropped the ball. And the aftermath left us stressed, having to pick up the pieces and do it ourselves. Maybe that one time was enough, or maybe we had the same experience 5 times, 10 times, 20 times before we started to trigger a fear response at the mere idea of delegation. Delegating is risky. And that fear then turns into anxiety. And that anxiety manifests itself into the need to micromanage as a way to protect ourselves from experiencing a possibly unpleasant outcome.
We think that the problem is the delegation. But what if it’s not the delegation that’s the issue? What if instead, the real issue is how we delegate? What if the real issue is our lack of ability, our lack of skill, for how we delegate? I want you just to hold and entertain that idea for a moment because if that’s true, then by denying ourselves the chance to delegate in the future, we won’t give ourselves the opportunity to get better at the skill.
As a business coach, I teach quarterly workshops to my clients in various locales across the country. But as a dad of two young boys, there are often times where I can’t, or won’t be able to, make it to a seminar. As such, I wanted to train others on my team to teach in my absence. So I asked “Joe” to teach a seminar for me several years back. He was really excited. But when it came time to do the seminar, he wasn’t prepared. He droned on and one, and missed a lot of the material that our clients had come to learn. That bad experience led me to believe that I couldn’t hand off these seminars to another team member, because no one would be able to do it like I could. So I continued to teach them for several years, never training anyone else to handle them for me.
Then in 2007, I got the news that my grandfather passed away. I remember teaching the first day of the event, where I had 100-plus people who have already paid to be there. All I could think about was making the flight to the funeral. And then after we laid him to rest, I had to fly out that evening to make it back to the event to teach the final day. That was the consequence of me not being willing to let go and build the abilities, the capabilities, of my team.
And I vowed to do better at delegating. Maybe I handed things off to “Joe” incorrectly. Maybe I should have practiced with him more before the seminar. Maybe I wasn’t clear on what my expectations were. Whatever extra work was needed to get it right was worth it if I had been able to spend time honoring my grandfather that day. Delegating is risky, but not being able to do it properly is so much riskier.
Confessions of a Micromanager
We think that the problem is the delegation.
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