Leaders have lots of tools at their disposal to get the job done. Part of becoming a good leader is learning how to respect the time and work of the people who report to them. Used responsibly, it can keep departments running smoothly. Used irresponsibly, as I see it happen all too often, it grinds things to a halt when a leader unwisely dumps a task on a worker and calls it an emergency, all because they mistakenly believe that their time is worth more than others’.
I see this in all aspects of life. For example, a few years ago, my wife asked me to stain the deck. I said, “Sure! Come Saturday morning, I will start bright and early!” I was a couple of hours into this daunting and unpleasant 8-hour task when my wife asked me when I would be heading to the grocery store. She reminded me that our friends were coming over for dinner that evening, and she needed a few items.
Having been married for close to 27 years at the time, I knew what I could get away with when I said, “Staining this deck looks so easy to you because you aren’t the one doing it. Why not ask me how long it is going to take?” My wife apologized and admitted that she had no idea how long it took to stain our deck, saying, “I had no idea the deck staining would take that long.”
This interaction made me realize that, when you’re not the one doing the work, it’s easy to assume that someone else has the time do it for you. Since then, I’ve wondered how often leaders dump tasks on team members without respect to what the worker has to do, day-to-day.
Leaders should always keep in mind that everyone has enough to do and that their time is not worth more than anyone else’s. Dumping tasks on team members just because you don’t see their time as equal to yours is flirting with disaster. Leaders who do this run the risk of harming department productivity, and worse, building resentment from workers who feel unduly burdened. Leaders should also never forget that their workers are the ones doing the day-to-day tasks. It's very easy to forget about work that you don't have to do regularly.
To avoid irresponsible delegation, leaders can practice some of the following:
Ask first, THEN delegate! Before you appoint any task, ask your point person what they're working on. If they seem, or say, that they are busier than usual, or are under a strict deadline, consider that before dropping another task on them. If they are unavailable, someone else can probably handle the job for you.
Provide support! Don’t just dump and run. Be available to answer questions that the worker may have and take the time at the outset to explain what they need to do, how they need to do it, and when it needs to be completed. The clearer you can be, the better your results.
Portions of this article were excerpted from my most recent book, “Leaders Are MADE, Not Born! WHAT YOUR EMPLOYEES ALWAYS WANTED TO TELL YOU, BUT NEVER DO! “, available here.