I’ve just had a phone call with a friend. She spent time telling me how tired she feels and how frantically busy her life is at the moment. During our call, she reeled off a ‘to do’ list of magnificent proportion. I was out of breath just listening to the jobs that she needed to complete. On her list were small tasks and big tasks, all muddled together.
During the call, I said to her, ‘could you delegate any of these tasks?’ She replied emphatically, ‘if only it was that simple!’
So, this got me thinking. What stops us from delegating and why does this problem affect so many of us midlifers, at home, and also at work. Inherently, we know that it makes sense to delegate. Deep down, we realise we can’t do everything and, if we try, we will be ineffective, and we might make mistakes!
So, why do we struggle with delegating?
The most common answer is, ‘it’s just easier to do it myself’. This may stem from the need to keep control of the tasks we have to do. Or it could be because we fear that someone else might mess it up and do a bad job. Maybe we are worried that we’ll get blamed if something goes wrong; or we feel that it’s too difficult to explain the job and it will take too much time, so we just get on and do it ourselves. However, if we try to do everything ourselves and we run out of time, we inevitably end up at crisis point and we can make ourselves (and others) very stressed.
I’ve seen this in the workplace, where leaders start to feel overwhelmed and become anxious because they’re not getting everything done on time. However, unbeknown to them, their team is waiting to move forwards and watching in the wings, wishing their leader would share some of the burdens. Then suddenly, the leader’s deadline becomes everyone else’s crisis and team members rush around in all directions trying to get the job done. All due to lack of effective delegation!
Inherently, then, delegation is about trust and safety. We need to be able to trust someone else to do the job and we need to feel safe in the knowledge that they will be able to complete it successfully and to our satisfaction!
Breaking that habit
But, as midlifers, we understand all too well that habits are hard to break. We have got used to the way we do things and even if we’re fed up, we still carry on doing things the way we always have! So how do we go about breaking the habit of doing everything ourselves and instead get into the habit of delegating effectively to others around us?
Let’s start by thinking about the 3 intentional choices that we need to make, to help us to delegate.
Think through the tasks that you need to do and consider what you could reasonably give to someone else. Put some time aside to do this. I promise that this will save you time in the long run.
Ask others to help you and ‘call out’ your habits. Ask them to be honest with you and let you know when they think you’re taking on too much. Be prepared to act on what they tell you.
Keep thinking about the benefits to you and to others of delegating which are; sharing your workload, freeing you up for other important things and taking the pressure off you. Delegating is a way to help others to take on new responsibility, enabling them to learn new skills but also a great opportunity to build teamwork and trust, making others feel valued.
Seven Powerful Rules
We need to remember that delegating does not mean just assigning tasks. The key to effective delegation is to give someone the context of what you are trying to achieve and let them know why it is important and this could happen not only at work but also at home with our family. As Stephen Covey’s says in his bestselling book ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’: “delegating involves clear, up-front mutual understanding and commitment.”
So how do we achieve this? Following these golden rules.
Provide a sense of purpose with the task.
Break the task into its component parts and if you need to assign a small element of the task to someone then build it up to the whole thing over time, that’s ok.
Ask yourself, do they have the right resources? If not make sure, you might be able to help them with this.
Agree with deadlines and consequences and be available for any further questions.
Once the task is done make sure there is a two-way conversation to discuss what went well and if things could be improved. This will result in reflection and accountability.
Avoid micromanaging as this defeats the whole purpose. Be careful though. It’s possible to be too hands-off so try and get the balance right. Stay involved but let them lead the way. In this way, they will feel empowered and they’ll rise to the challenge.
Celebrate their success and praise them for a good job.
Finally, as I move through midlife, I keep this quote by Martha Beck in mind ‘the way we do anything is the way we do everything’ and in this case, it can be applied to delegation. Whether it’s loading the dishwasher every day or delivering that one-off presentation, remember tasks can be delegated and in the end, everyone’s a winner.