Work Yourself Out of a Job
In a recent post, I told the story of a client whose head of engineering – a very strong player – quit suddenly, just as the Coronavirus shutdown was looming. Under pressure, they quickly promoted one of their staff engineers to take his place. To their great surprise, they quickly learned that he was every bit as strong as the person he replaced, and perhaps even stronger.
This experience raised three questions for the team:
• If “Pete” hadn’t quit, how long would it have taken us to figure out what a gem “Matt” is?
• How many more undiscovered Matts do we have hiding in plain sight?
• How do we find them and turn them loose to give us all they’ve got?
The most likely answers to the first two questions are, respectively, “a very long time, if ever” and “a lot.”
The answer to the third question is “delegate like crazy,” which is easy to say and not so easy to do. Even people who say they’re great at it usually aren’t delegating as much as they could or should.
Not delegating is a big deal. It turns you into the bottleneck on your company’s growth. You deprive yourself of the best thinking and contributions of your people. And you deprive the human beings for whom you are responsible of the opportunity to grow.
So how do you change the dynamic? Here are two specific things you can do to become a “maximum delegator.”
1) Stop telling your people what to do and start asking them. Let them take the lead in both problem-solving and setting their own goals. It sounds like this: “Well, Lisa, you’re the Marketing expert. What do YOU think we should do about this?” or “What do you think your most important priority is for the next 90 days?” Ask clarifying questions – “Have you thought about XYZ?” “What if ABC happens?” “Why do you think this project is more important than that other one?” Keep asking until you’re comfortable with the answers. You’ll get much more buy-in, and you’ll quickly begin to identify your strong players. Who they are, and how many you have may surprise you.
2) Try really hard to work yourself out of a job. Your number one job as a leader is to help the people who report to you succeed. So when you meet with them, instead of focusing on how you’re going to get to “the right answer,” start asking yourself, “How can I use this conversation to help them learn to get to great answers when I’m not here?” Imagine that you’re only going to be there for another few months. You don’t want to leave your people high and dry. So how can you help them learn to not need you?
Give it a try. And don’t worry. You won’t work yourself out of a job. What you’ll do is make your job much more interesting, get your work/life balance back, and very possibly prepare yourself for your next promotion.