Are You a Control Freak?

When it comes to leading a team, a lot of us have difficulty relinquishing control. I’ve written a lot lately about the problem of micromanagement, but today I want to write about a somewhat different (though related) control issue: unwillingness to delegate.

I recently worked with a client that felt like her team’s performance wasn’t as optimal as it could be, but she couldn’t put her finger on why. After conducting a 360 analysis in which I interviewed her staff for anonymous feedback, it turned out that a big part of the problem was my client’s refusal to delegate tasks. This, in turn, was creating a culture of distrust in the workplace.

When you refuse to let your team do what they’ve been trained to do in favor of doing it yourself, you send the message that you don’t really have faith in their abilities. They begin to wonder if you question their competence. Inevitably, refusing to delegate means that you take on more than you can handle, and so tasks are completed poorly or left unfinished. This further feeds into the cycle of distrust amongst your staff.

The old adage that “If you want something done right, do it yourself” isn’t a good one to follow when you’re in a position of leadership. A better motto would be “If you want something done right, assign the task to the person best suited to complete it.” You have a team for a reason—because no one can (or should) do everything themselves. The beauty of working with others is that everyone brings unique abilities, perspective, and insight to the table.

The best leaders are great delegators. They find the right person for the job, and then they give that person the tools they need to be as successful as possible.

We live in a society that often seems to reward people who can “do it all.” We’ve made a virtue out of overburdening ourselves both in our work lives and in our personal lives. How often have you heard a colleague brag about how much he or she has on their plate? This is a sign of organizational dysfunction, not a badge of honor.

So what can you do if you know you have a problem delegating tasks? First, I always recommend that you seek the help of a professional coach. A coach offers a neutral, outsider’s perspective that can help you determine where you’re taking on too much. But there are steps you can take on your own as well. Whenever you’re tempted to complete a task or project on your own, as yourself (and your team) these questions:

  • Who (besides yourself) would be best suited to complete the task?
  • Consider the amount of support that person/s might need to complete the task. If the answer is minimal, delegate the task.
  • If a lot of support would be needed, consider how much time would need to be invested in training a team member/s to take over. Will it free up more of your time in the long run?
  • Whose abilities are you underutilizing? What steps could you take to get them more involved?
  • What learning and growth opportunities can you create for your team?
  • How evenly is knowledge spread throughout the organization? Does your team have access to the tools they need to be successful?

This problem may not seem severe in the short term, but it can have devastating long-term consequences if you fail to address it. Besides damaging organizational culture, it can be dangerous if for some reason you become incapacitated. For example, if you became ill and unable to complete work for your company’s largest client, is there someone on your team who is enough in the loop to take over for you? If not, you’ve got a big problem, and you should strongly consider seeking out the help of a professional coach.

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