Most leaders are naturally high achievers. Their schedules are busy, they keep long hours, and their drive is tireless. Unfortunately, they may also be overscheduled, buried under their work, and on the edge of burnout. Over time, both the leader and the organization can suffer.
Successful leaders know what needs to be done and how to leverage the talents of their team. They know how to broker work to the right people, in the right proportions. In short, they delegate.
As Stephen Covey observed,
“Effectively delegating to others is perhaps the single most powerful high-leverage activity there is.”
But delegation can be tricky. It can be used as an excuse for everything from dumping workload onto subordinates, or as a dynamic tool for motivating and training your team to realize their full potential. Below are four levels of work distribution. Ask yourself which level you are on.
Level 1: Doing. Many people get their first leadership titles because they are Doers. Action, initiative, and productivity are part of their toolkit. They deliver high-quality results quickly with no drag from others. The benefits of working at Level 1 are knowledge, growth, and reward. The danger comes when we’ve done so much so well for so long that we begin to burnout. Here are some symptoms of burnout as described by Dr. Herbert Freudenberger in his book, Burn-Out: The High Cost of Achievement.
Level 2: Dumping. Level 2 is a coping mechanism from too much Doing. Frustrated by doing it all, leaders begin dumping work on others. They unload menial tasks on their team. The good news is, they’ve gained a little breathing room. The bad news is, team members spend more time doing mundane, repetitive work. This limits their ability to take on added responsibility and grow. Healthy team members will not bear this kind of environment for long. No one likes to get dumped on.
Level 3: Delegating. By Level 3, leaders have gained the ability to plan ahead and determine how to best delegate projects. They find people with available time and suitable talent. Skilled delegators take the time to match the individual’s development level for a given assignment with the appropriate leadership style. This delegation style is also known as Situational Leadership. Work gets done at a healthy pace and no one burns out, but it’s still not the highest level to be achieved.
Level 4: Developing. Successful leaders know that there is a need beyond creating a highly productive team. At Level 4, leaders invest their time, energy, and thinking into growing others as leaders. They gauge each team member’s potential for growth and leadership. This practice compounds success, because bringing out the best in a person works as a catalyst for bringing out the best in the team. At this stage, production becomes secondary to outcome. As author Tom Peters notes, “Leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders.”
It’s true that delegating something the first time can take more time and effort. You could do it faster and better yourself. But if you want to avoid burnout and take your organization to the next level, you’ll find the investment is worth it.
Question: As a leader, what level do you choose to get the work done? What would it take to move to the next level?