I just came back from working the ING New York City Marathon. One of the things that I think is hardest for people to learn is how to delegate to the other people, whether people who report directly to them or people who are reporting to them only on a specific project. This came out loud and clear with some of my former colleagues at the marathon. A leader’s job is to lay out the plan and overall vision for a project and then delegate areas of that project to her direct reports. There will be areas that she will manage, and she should know what is happening in all of the areas her direct reports are managing.
I saw a situation occur this weekend where a leader kept such tight control of an event that on the day of the event, his direct reports told a colleague of mine that none of them knew what they were supposed to do for the event (what their responsibilities were) because their leader, who was managing the event, was supposed to give them their assignments, but he never got around to telling them. This was scary to see because there was a lot that needed to be done, yet one person was the only one who knew the plan and he and was trying to complete it alone.
Too many people want to hang on to their areas of responsibility. I think it stems from a couple of issues: thinking that no one can do it better than they can and fear that someone else will be doing their job, and hence, taking away their spotlight. What they don’t realize is that they’re not doing themselves or their direct reports any type of justice by doing this. Good leaders understand and follow the mantra that in order to move up, you’ve got to give up, meaning that in order to grow and climb the ladder of an organization, you have to give up specific control of areas. This doesn’t mean that you give up responsibility for something, but rather that you give up the detailed control. You still oversee an area and are ultimately responsible for it, but you’re not the one hashing out the details. As a leader, you assign new areas to your staff and guide them through the minefield. They walk through the minefield on their own, but you as their leader never allow them to even get close enough to a land mine to cause any damage. One of the keys is to have regular (weekly) meetings with them to review their projects and guide them through the problem areas. A leader should understand all of the areas that report to him and know what is happening in them by way of regular updates from his staff. Giving up the specific tasks allows a leader to take on broader responsibilities and create future leaders by developing their talents. Good leaders lead managers. Great leaders develop and lead other leaders.