I get asked all the time about my busy schedule, and how I find time to accomplish all the things that I do. When I answer that I delegate as much as I can, people nod in recognition. But I can tell that they’re not really satisfied with my answer. That’s because every leader “knows” about delegation. But most have had one of two experiences with it. They either hold onto as much as they can and only give away what they absolutely cannot do themselves, or they try to dump everything on unprepared and unsuspecting followers. The result? Burnout … or a train wreck.
So how do you avoid the extremes and make delegation work for you? Create a culture of development. I often hear from leaders who admire my assistant Linda Eggers, or my writer Charlie Wetzel. They’re amazed at how much I feel comfortable handing off to one or the other. And invariably, they ask, “How can I get someone of that caliber on my team?” My answer is always the same. Find someone with the ability and willingness to learn, and then invest a lot of time in their lives.
With everyone who works closely with me, my goal is to teach them to think like I do. So at the beginning, I pour a lot of myself into them. I don’t just make decisions and ask them to implement them. I share my thought processes and encourage them to tell me what they think I would do. Because of our time spent in development, I can now trust each one to make decisions and communicate the same way I would. Give away everything you can. It may seem to you that I give away some pretty important tasks. You’re right; I do. And that makes me unusual. Generally, the more important a task is to the leader, the more tightly they hold onto it. Even if it’s not a good use of their gifts or it keeps them from doing other things.
So regardless of the task’s importance…
1. If someone else can do a task better than I can, I give it away.
And I’ve discovered that I do only four things really well: lead, communicate, create, and network. I routinely give everything else, such as administrative and financial tasks, to the experts.
2. If someone else can do a task at least 80% as well as I can, I give it to them.
Mark Cole, CEO of The John Maxwell Company, is an exceptional leader. So much of the success in my organizations is because of his guidance. I feel confident in his ability to lead at least 80% as well as I could. (And probably in many situations, 80% better than I could!) Over the years, Mark and I have spent a lot of time together. He knows how I think. I’ve always been proud to have him represent me, so much that if you want a picture of how I would personally lead, I’d tell you to just look at him.
3. If someone else has the potential to do a task at least 80% as well as I can, I train them.
When Charlie Wetzel started researching for me, he gave me material that was of no interest or use to me. But I didn’t take that as evidence that I’d better hold onto that task. Instead, I came up with a process for teaching Charlie to look for material the way I would.
Here’s what we did: We would both read the same book of inspirational quotes and mark those that we thought were good. Then we’d compare our notes. At first, 90% of our choices didn’t agree. So I’d explain to him why I did or did not choose certain quotes, and we’d try again with a different book. Within a few months, Charlie and I agreed on 90% of all research material. We trained in a similar way with writing.
Today, twenty years later, Charlie knows what I want before I do! He truly reads my mind and writes in my style. He knows my idiosyncrasies and my passions. Because of this, Charlie can take my material and make it better. He rewrites my writing and improves what I want to say. And I agree with 98% of his choices.
Take a look at your delegating style. What are you dumping without development? What are you holding onto that’s stealing time from your priorities? If you take time to train your people, you can trust their thinking enough to let them do even the most important tasks well. Then you can use your best energies to do the things you do best.