Delegation is a Long Term Investment

“The growth and development of people is the highest calling of leadership.”

— Harvey Firestone

Recently I facilitated a small group coaching session for new leaders in our Leading People, Managing Work training program at Tandem Solutions. Near the end of the course, several participants mentioned that one of the topics we covered–“Delegation to Develop”–was particularly helpful for them. It also happens to be one of my favorite topics!

It’s not unusual that new managers have a hard time delegating. How many of us have thought, “It’s easier and faster to do it myself?” I’ve been there. As a result, leaders become too busy trying to balance doing the work with leading others.  Often, managers view the act of delegating as simply assigning work in order to free up their own time.

But the act of delegating creates a more important leadership opportunity. Delegating is a powerful way to motivate and develop employees. In moving from the role of individual contributor to leader, think of leadership as a whole new profession – getting the work done through others while giving your employees opportunities for personal and professional growth.  These sometimes small investments can produce staggering long term dividends.

In the early 1980s I was the executive director of a network of three rural community health care centers in Upstate New York. It was a small organization, so I had been able to get to know my employees in a short period of time. Not long into my tenure my administrative assistant left and I needed to replace her. The role involved basic accounting, purchasing, generating reports, and the like. There was no one in the organization with those exact skills, but there was Debbie.

Debbie was the receptionist. She was a high school graduate, smart, willing to learn, and wanted to grow. So I offered her the job. As I taught her the basics, I delegated more and more to her.

Effective delegation requires us to know our team members. What are their strengths? Motivations? How can we help them grow? And more importantly, what are their goals and aspirations? Ask them. Debbie was glad to tell me what made her tick. This allowed me to be more than a task-assigner. I became a mentor and coach.

I kept in touch with Debbie periodically after I left the organization, though it had been several years since I’d seen her. We recently met up for coffee in 2014 at the café in the little town where she still lives. She pulled something out of her purse to show me. It was the course listing for the local community college; on it were circled the courses I had suggested she take, way back in 1980. She had kept it all these years. Since then, she has gotten her associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree, and is now the leader of the information technology program for the local school district.

Debbie thanked me for believing in her and guiding her personal and professional development. I was honored to learn that I changed someone’s life. And you can, too. Delegate to develop—there’s no greater reward.

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