We all know that we need to be good at delegating in order to have any traction in our careers. We need to be able to learn how to do something and then teach someone else how to do it, so that we can move on and learn how to do something new. This is as true for creative people as it is for management types.
Yet even though we know this, most of us have trouble actually doing it. Many people think they’re the exception to the rule — that delegating is important, but in their very unique, particular case, it’s impossible.
Newsflash: It’s never impossible to delegate — it’s all in the mind of the delegator. Here are seven ways to get started on the road to all-star delegation:
1. Get over your perfectionist streak.
The key to delegating is recognizing that your ability to do things perfectly isn’t as highly valued as you think it is. In fact, perfectionism isn’t valuable in 80 percent of the work we do.
If you think you’re the exception to this rule — which all perfectionists do — consider that perfectionism is so unhealthy that it’s a risk factor for depression. This should make delegating come easier.
2. Decide what’s most important.
In order to figure out what to delegate, you need to figure out what’s most important to your career. This means you need to know what your specialty is, what you’re known for in the office, and what your unique value is to the company. Anything that falls outside this isn’t that important to you.
Once you understand this, delegating most things will be easier. They’re nonessential to your career, so it’s OK if you don’t leave your particular mark on them.
3. Focus on helping people grow.
Your job is to help make people stars. Management is essentially an act of constant giving and constant patience. It entails giving people a little attention all the time instead of giving them lots of attention only when they mess up. In fact, if you’re managing people effectively they don’t mess up, because you play to their strengths and teach them how to move around their weaknesses.
Hands-off management isn’t respectful — it’s negligent. People want mentoring and guidance from their manager. If you give that in a way that helps them grow while also treating them with respect, they’ll love having you around. And when your direct reports love having you around, they do their best work for you out of loyalty. Even younger workers — those notorious job-hoppers — are loyal to respectful, hands-on managers.
4. Give away your most interesting work.
If you think you’re going to be able to dump your most mundane assignments onto the people who report to you, think again. After all, your job as a manager is to help people grow, so you’re not actually doing your job if you’re asking them to copy and collate all day long.
So consider keeping the grunt work for yourself sometimes. Your direct reports will appreciate it, and it’ll probably give you more empathy in general since you’ll have an idea of how soul-crushing mindless work can be.
The real upside to this, though, is that the people you delegate to stay more engaged in the work they’re doing. So if you pitch in on the small, stupid tasks, you get good results on the large, important ones.
5. Blame yourself if no one can do a task as well as you.
A lot of people don’t delegate because they’re the only person who can do a particular task. If that’s you, you’re probably deluding yourself.
First off, the task probably isn’t as difficult as you think it is; it’s just that no one would do it exactly the way you do, which is fine. But in addition to that, if no one can do the tasks you do, it’s because you’re hoarding knowledge and making things needlessly complicated.
The solution isn’t complicated, though: Share the knowledge and let someone else give the task a try. You don’t need to be the only person doing it in order to feel important.
6. Take a vacation.
If you’re really having trouble delegating, go on vacation for a couple of weeks. When you get back, find who did which parts of your job while you were gone. Then distribute those parts permanently.
If someone didn’t do a good job of it while you were away, it’s not evidence that you shouldn’t delegate. It’s evidence that you need to help the person grow into the job.
7. Practice at home.
The last time I moved, it was a big deal — I had to abandon all my stuff and was out of my mind with stress.
I’m typically good at delegating, but that time I went outside even my own comfort zone: I couldn’t deal with picking the color to paint the walls of my new house, so I told the painters to pick colors that would calm me down. They did. I wouldn’t have picked the shades of yellow they picked, but it was fine — I got used to the yellow. And if I hadn’t been able to delegate as much as I did, I would never have gotten through the move.
We can all get through the good times. The test of our skills is getting through the bad ones. So when you think about delegating, recognize that, done right, it can mean the difference between enduring the rough patches and making yourself crazy for no good reason.