If you will not delegate for the right reasons, at least give your subordinates the assignments you do not want (and do it for all the wrong reasons).
The Right Reasons
Peter Drucker was once asked if leaders were born or made. His response: “Leaders grow, they are not made.” Drucker was absolutely right. Leadership is an organic process and your people need the opportunity to grow.
In fact, your role as a manager is not to gather as many followers as possible, but to help your followers grow into leaders. You should seek to expand their capacity. Nothing expands capacity like challenging opportunities. Delegate.
The Wrong Reasons
There is also a pragmatic reason to delegate. Let’s assume you are just a lazy boss. Delegation can reduce your workload, freeing up precious time for more critical tasks like golf.
Want to cut your workload in half and gain the salutary results of effective management? Try this: Assure a subordinate that you are going to empower her. Let her know how much you trust her. Tell her that, within the parameters you have established, she has creative control over the project. Then, go play golf.
Moreover, when your boss asks you why you were on the golf course instead of working one the XYZ account, you can look him in the eye and tell him that you had to be out of the office in order to provide a meaningful leadership experience to a promising subordinate. You are, after all, interested in the company’s long-term growth.
I am only half-joking here.
A businessman once commented to Andrew Carnegie, the great American industrialist, that he must get to his office at the crack of dawn to complete his day’s work. Carnegie laughed and told him:
You must be a lazy man if it takes you ten hours to do a day’s work. What I do is to get good men, and I never give them orders. My directions seldom go beyond suggestions. Here in the morning I get reports from them. Within an hour I have disposed of everything, sent out all of my suggestions, the day’s work is done, and I am ready to go out and enjoy myself.[i]
This is the art of delegation. A good leader assigns a task and then allows the subordinate to operate in her own way. Stan Lee of Marvel Comics fame put it this way: “I have a theory. When you work with artists and writers, any kind of creative people, you get their best work if you let them do it the way they want to do it.”[ii]
So go and give away that difficult assignment. Tell her what needs to be done and assure her that you will not interfere. Then go play golf. It may be the best thing you’ve done as a manager.
By the way, if you are really interested in learning to lead more effectively, see my Top 10 List of Leadership Books. Read them if you care about your people. If you don’t care about your people, put them on your bookshelf to make yourself look like someone who takes leadership very seriously. Either way, review the list.
December 5, 2012
Dr. Gerdes is the Director of the MBA Program at Charleston Southern University