Considering the phrase “know when to let go to the right people” appeared to me today in an article that I was reading in Inc. Magazine. Now, it has me asking the logical questions: How do I identify the right people and how do I let things go to them? The first question is more perplexing to me right now. Sometimes it seems very obvious that a person is the right person for a task, responsibility, or job, but there are other places where this doesn’t seem quite so clear.
When considering whether to let go to someone I am asking myself different questions. Do they have the necessary knowledge and skill to do what I need them to do? How much effort will it take for me to explain to them what I want? Can I trust them to do the work to my standards and thus represent me well? Each of these questions raises some interesting leadership issues.
Do they have the necessary knowledge and skill? As a leader part of my responsibility is to equip people to do the things that need doing? In the realm of delegation we are sometimes only interested in freeing up ourselves to do other things that others can’t do for us. However, at other times delegation is more about giving someone the opportunity to grow and shine, its more about the person than the work. So, when I am trying to decide who the right person is, I must be able to articulate what I am trying to achieve through my delegation: get something done or make someone better? It occurs to me that in many cases I’m interested in both. I need to get something off my plate, have it done well, and develop someone’s skills in the process. At that point I’m thinking about the other questions.
How much effort will it take for me to explain what I want? The answer to this question can quickly help determine whether a person is the right person to let go to. However, it is a complex equation. Usually, when I am thinking about letting something go, I am looking for those tasks and responsibilities that are ongoing or repeating. When I identify these types of tasks, it is more acceptable to invest more time in teaching and equipping the person to do it once, maybe even twice, than it would take me to do the tasks myself. But not all delegation worthy activities are repeatable. Sometimes I have one-off tasks that need to be completed but I don’t have anyone on my team to whom I can delegate the task to without significant investment, teaching, and equipping. Now it becomes a question of the value of the learning experience of the individual vs. the investment cost to teach that person. Are there bigger lessons or broader concepts that the person will learn, which in turn will help them in the future with other tasks and responsibilities? Is it likely that, by teaching them how to do this one task, future delegation moves will be easier, thus helping me even more in the future. It occurs to me that delegation can be tactical or strategic and that I am describing a case for strategic delegation.
This brings me to the last question: Can I trust them to do the work to my standards and thus represent me well? A lot rides on how we are using the word “trust.” If I am wondering whether the person is trustworthy or will maliciously sabotage the project and by extension my reputation, then I really ought not consider delegating work to that person. There may be another consideration that needs to take place. But there is another issue at stake, namely, my ego. If I am more worried about “my standards” and “my reputation,” my focus is blurred. If I have decided that delegation is necessary for the development of the person, then my standards and reputation take a back seat. I have to be willing to let them fail. I have to trust that they don’t want to fail more than I don’t want them to fail me. Trust then is a leadership quality that is required for proper delegation, and trust has some inherent risks when people are involved.