Delegation and Leadership

Posted by Keith Johnston on February 4th, 2013

shutterstock 78731977 300x195 Delegation and LeadershipMy wife has a friend who recently accepted a part time job working for a local attorney.  She understood that the job would involve interviewing people connected to various legal cases.  The attorney told her that conducting the interviews for him would save him a tremendous amount of time which he could dedicate to activities requiring his understanding of the law.  She was to begin work early in January.

For the first several weeks of her employment she has shown up at work early in the morning, as required, only to find out that the attorney did not have time to sit down with her and prepare her for the work she was hired to do.  On a couple of occasions she was asked to accompany other attorneys in the courtroom, but usually she was sent home after one hour and asked to return in a couple of days.  Since she is being paid on an hourly basis for working on assignments, to date her income has fallen far below what she expected.  Given that the attorney has not been able to carve out the time to meet with her, he has fallen further behind on his case work.

This is a problem I have seen all too often, and actually highlights a trait that differentiates real leaders from those who never really make it as a leader.  One of the characteristics commonly used to describe leaders is that they are people who accomplish goals through other people.  Good leaders are very good at empowering the people they lead to carry out numerous activities which will ultimately lead to the accomplishment of goals the organization has established.  Weak leaders struggle to let go of work and frequently execute the activities themselves while their team is underutilized and demotivated.

There are a number of reasons why people fail to let go of the detailed tasks required to complete a project, among them is a lack of trust and a fear that the work will not be carried out with the degree of precision they have traditionally delivered.  They fear that if something goes wrong, they will be blamed.  By refusing to delegate work to others, people send a message to their team that they do not have confidence in them, which results in the team losing confidence in themselves, and even worse, they do not learn new skills which would enable them to take on greater responsibilities.  They stagnate in their job and ultimately leave.

This problem can and does occur at all levels in an organization, and is one of the reasons that executives plateau in their careers.  They are afraid to let go of their responsibilities and turn them over to less experienced executives.  Without the ability to move from being a hands on manager to someone setting the vision and motivating performance, people fail to move their organizations forward and fail to move forward in their careers.

Successful leaders learn to break work into smaller tasks.  Some of the tasks will require extensive experience to complete, other tasks require less experience.  Once the tasks have been identified, they can be assigned to people on a team with appropriate skills.  The leader may keep the 10% or 20% of the tasks best suited to his or her expertise, while the rest of the tasks can be assigned to less experienced people.  In this manner the work gets done more quickly and the leader stays involved but empowers other members of the team and manages to reach goals more quickly.  Effective leaders need to know how to delegate and supervise work.  They must also know how to leverage the resources they have at their disposal.

In the case of my wife’s friend and the attorney, he wanted to hire her to enable him to grow his practice.  He determined that he alone did not have the capacity to expand his case load if he could not offload some of the lower level activities to an assistant.

The good news is that she has now met other attorneys who are in need of her skills and are willing to pay her to help them.  She believes she could not only help them, but there is enough work in this area to keep her and her husband busy for quite some time.  If she is able to muster the courage to resign from her current position and strike out on her own, she will be showing more leadership than the attorney who hired her in the first place.


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