Learn why we don't delegate, the consequences, and how to get in the right frame of mind so you can do it effectively.
- Delegation seems like such a good idea, such an obvious idea. If you have too much work to do, and especially if there's too little time in which to do it, why not give it to someone else? Brilliant. And yet it is so much harder in practice. There are a few key reasons that end up blocking us. First, it's letting go of how we've worked in the past. You've gotten this far and been successful, been promoted, it's working for you, so to change things now seems a little risky, which leads to the second reason delegation is hard, which is trusting someone else.
Can another person do a task as well, or as accurately, or as quickly as you? Let's be honest, probably not. But we have to get real. If we're talking about maintaining nuclear reactors, then, yes, perfection is the only right answer. But for almost anything else, we have to get comfortable with good enough. That's very difficult than getting comfortable with shoddy work or incomplete work. But if the PowerPoint is 90% as good as yours would be, most people honestly won't notice. Or you can take 15 minutes and bring it up to 100% instead of three hours, crafting all of it from scratch.
Before we can delegate in any meaningful way, we have to be willing to accept that internally. Another obstacle is simply the logistical hassle of explaining to someone how to do a given task. I fell victim to this myself. When my first book, Reinventing You, came out, I knew I needed an assistant. I was falling behind on emails, drowning in administrative tasks like booking airline tickets, and just feeling overwhelmed with the influx of new inquiries and obligations. So I hired someone and was gobsmacked that, for about a month, it actually made my life less efficient.
It really would've been faster to do all the tasks myself. It took twice as long to explain everything to my new assistant and teach her processes and how to handle things. It magnified rather than diminished my anxiety. It would have been easy to quit working with her right then and there and just go back to how I was used to doing something, but I toughed it out. And after that initial training period, delegation showed its true benefits, and life became easier. Not everyone is willing to work through that rough period where things become less efficient before getting better.
Finally, a lot of us have a kind of self-improvement ethos in our heads that tells us the most important thing we should be doing is improving our shortcomings and shoring up when we're weak. Bad at keeping up with your expense reimbursements? Just try harder, be a better person. Fixing our flaws is important of course if we're talking about our character as human beings. But does it really matter in the scheme of things if you're on top of your expense reimbursements? Or might it be equally okay if you set up a system so that someone is on top of your expense reimbursements? As long as they're submitted on time, who does it isn't the measure of your value as a human being.
In most cases, you can make yourself far more valuable at work by doubling down on the things you're actually good at. But sometimes our own entrenched attitudes prevent that from happening. When we don't delegate, we overextend ourselves and inevitably end up disappointing our colleagues and supervisors, because we just can't get it all done. When we harness the power of letting others help, we can get way more done and focus on our strengths, making ourselves happier and more productive in the process. Changing our mindset around delegation is the first step in that process.