Leadership Barometer 47 More Delegation

April 24, 2020

I work with leaders on a regular basis, and most of them wish they were better at delegating. I have yet to meet a person who believes delegating is a bad thing to do.

Granted, it is possible overdo the technique and get into trouble, just as one can overdo any good thing, but for most of us, we would be far more effective if we did more delegation rather than less.

The reason for not delegating stems from each person’s desire to have things done well. We want things to be done the way we would do them, and are afraid that some other person will not live up to the standards we have for ourselves.

The excuse often given is “it is much easier to just do it myself than to teach the other person to understand how I want it done and make sure he does it that way.” That thinking sounds like just being honest, but it is not a helpful way to think.

The fear is not just about getting the work done the “right” way. It is also a sociological fear that if we need to have the work redone, then we have made an enemy or at least have to do some coaching to calm the other person down.

The dread of having to deal with the consequences of a failed attempt and the rework involved is very real and makes us feel like the time is better spent just doing the job ourselves. That approach will also prevent the time pressure if there is an urgency to the task.

You cannot use the “Law of Leverage” to multiply your good influence in the world until you let go of the idea of perfection and grab onto the concept of “excellence by influence.”

By trusting other people to figure out the best way to do something and leaving them alone to do it “their way,” you unleash the power of creative thinking and initiative in other people. They will often surprise you by delivering work and solutions that are far better and arrive sooner than you would have done yourself.

To have subordinates perform as you wish, it is first important to ensure you have defined the desired outcome. Make sure they can recite the objective back to you before they go off to accomplish the task.

This is also a great time to verify they have the resources needed to accomplish the work. Many managers fail to provide the time, money, or other resources that will be needed to do the job and then become frustrated when an employee tries to improvise a sub-optimal solution.

A typical problem is that managers have a preconceived idea of what the ideal solution will resemble. When we see the result of the work done by a creative and turned-on individual, it just does not look like the solution we envisioned, so the “not invented here” syndrome takes over, and we send signals that the work is not good enough.

It is hard to admit that the solution we are presented with is, in many cases, a superior one. Here are some ideas that can help you lower this rejection reaction and be more accepting of the solutions others present.

1. Does it do the job?

In every task there are countless ways to achieve a result that actually does the job intended. When you see the work of another person, try to imagine that the solution you see is one of hundreds of alternatives, including the one you had in mind.

2. Did it help the other person grow?

Our job as managers and leaders is not only to get everything done according to some standard. Our primary purpose is to help people grow into their powerful best, which means putting higher value on what the person is learning than on the particular solution to a specific task. Even if the solution turns out to be flawed, it still is a success in terms of helping the person learn and grow.

3. Are you making a mountain out of a molehill?

We often get so intense about how things are being perceived by our own superiors that we lose sight of the bigger picture. By showing high trust and enabling more people to leverage their skills, you are going to be perceived very well, even if there is an occasional slip.

4. Who is the judge for which is the best solution?

Clearly if you have a preconceived idea of what the solution looks like, you are not in a position to be objective. You are already biased in the direction of your vision.

5. What kind of culture do you want?

To have an engaged group, you need to empower people by giving them tasks and trusting them to use their initiative and creativity to find their own solutions. If you want everything done “your way,” you will end up getting what most organizations typically do, which is roughly 30% of the discretionary effort that is available in the workforce. You end up with compliance rather than excellence.

6. What are you really risking?

When you stop and think about it, the risks involved are really quite small. Even if something does not work out, it will be of little consequence in a week or two. The risk is even lower if people are becoming more engaged in the work and more skilled over time through trial and error.

7. What is the best for you?

Realizing that you have a choice to micromanage or not and choosing to be an empowering rather than stifling manager lets you sleep a lot better at night. That is a huge advantage and well worth having to endure a serviceable solution that is not exactly what you had in mind.

The benefits of good delegation are well documented. Few people would vote for less delegation by any manager, so why not learn to set good objectives and trust people to come up with good solutions? You will find it is not as hard as you imagine, and your overall performance will go up dramatically as you leverage resources better.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations


Preventing Social Loafing

October 5, 2013

One Minute LateSocial loafing is a name given to the phenomenon where one or more people fail to pull their fair share of the load. We see evidence of it in every aspect of our lives from family slackers who leave messes for others to clean up, to sports teams where some players like to skip practice, to hospitals where some staff work at their own pace even when resources are stretched to the max.

We see it in church groups where one person will gladly take credit, even though she was not present at any of the events or meetings.

In a work setting, social loafing is the single biggest reason for team stress. I contend it is a rare team that does not experience some form of social loafing, and it creates ill will among the group every time.

The reason for the ubiquitous nature of this problem is that the work is never equally accomplished by all members of the team. Some people will have issues that prevent them from contributing as much as others. The issues may be legitimate, like a death in the family, or a chronic health condition, or they may be fabricated.

Since the load is never completely equal, those who pull more than their fair share become resentful of those who get equal credit but fail to do equal work.

A variation of the work setting is in the area of volunteer groups. It gets more tricky in these groups because people are stepping up to volunteer their time and talent for a cause.

Worse in the volunteer world...

In the commercial business arena, if a person slacks off, then he or she can be punished or even terminated, but in the volunteer world, there is much less leverage because the time is donated. In this case, some other form of inducement, usually peer pressure, is the only leverage that can help reduce social loafing.

Since this problem is debilitating to teams and is universal, is there a simple cure for the disease? I believe there is, but I also think it is not often used very well. The trick is to create an agreement at the start that everyone will pull his or her share of the load.

People usually buy into the concept at the start of a team: after all, fair is fair. It is only after the team gets going that life happens and the slackers are revealed. Good intentions at the start of an activity are necessary but not sufficient to prevent social loafing.

What is needed is an agreed-upon penalty or consequence that will befall a person who does not perform as previously stated.

Let me share two examples of how this works and how the concept really does nip the problem of social loafing in the bud. I will use one example in an online university setting and a second example in a volunteer organization.

I do a lot of teaching in the online environment. Students have individual assignments and team assignments (usually papers to write) where there is a lot of work to be done by several remote individuals. Students come into the team environment with all good intentions where all students will do their fair share of the work, but inevitably one or two people will fall behind the pace and hold the team back.

This lack of following rules causes the other members to scramble to get the paper finished at the last minute because one student did not do the assigned part. That infuriates the other students because their grade on the team paper is dependent on everyone pulling a fair share of the load.

In every single team there is this same problem to some degree. Occasionally it is hard to detect due to a particular set of individuals, but even there I see signs of stress when one student procrastinates a bit and leaves the others waiting and wondering.

The cure is so simple. If the penalty for goofing off is spelled out specifically at the start, then the stress goes away and performance improves.

Suppose the team agrees that all team members will submit their part of the paper three days before it is due, to allow time for editing and clean up.

Now comes the critical element. The team agrees that if one member does not comply with the agreed timing, his name will be left off the team paper, and he will receive no points for the weekly assignment. That is a very stiff penalty because it will immediately lower the final grade for a course for that student by one letter grade.

By insisting on a specific consequence to be agreed upon at the start of the course (when everyone has good intentions) then the social loafing rarely occurs. Reason: The would-be slacker has already agreed to accept the dreaded consequence, so there is no doubt about what will happen to him if he fails to meet expectations.

If he tests the system and finds he got no points for the assignment, he cannot cry foul. He already signed off on the consequence. The result is that he never does it again.

A second example is from a volunteer organization. Here we cannot specify leaving the person’s name off a paper because there is none. Instead we need to get more creative with a penalty. The time to brainstorm possible consequences for social loafing is at the start when the team is forming.

The team should brainstorm acceptable behaviors and then the group needs to identify what will happen to an individual if he or she does not abide by the established rules. Let’s take a specific example of a group that is planning an event. Each volunteer has a specific role to play, and they identify that any individual member not doing the job will be responsible for providing refreshments at the next meeting or washing the dishes after the meeting. This penalty is not debilitating, but the embarrassment factor of having to bring in goodies for the rest of the team should be a strong deterrent against social loafing.

You can come up with any specific penalty as long as it has two elements 1) the penalty is specified before the slacking occurs, and 2) everyone agrees to enforce the penalty.

Having a specific penalty associated with failure to perform up to good intentions is the most effective way to prevent social loafing or deal with it when it happens. Try it in your group and see how this simple step is like a miracle for better teamwork.


Your Attitude

February 19, 2012

The one thing you really can control in life is your attitude, yet most people view their attitude as the result of external things happening to them rather than a conscious decision they make every minute of every day. In this brief article, I would like to explore some ideas that can help make your choice more intentional. These ideas are not new or unique; they have been expressed by numerous authors or scientists, and yet they are easily forgotten by anyone in the heat of the moment.

When you react to a stimulus, an emotion is created in the limbic system (right side) of your brain. That emotion will translate into a “feeling” about the stimulus immediately. The reaction is a chemical one that you have no control over at all. Instantly you are caught by the emotion, and this will form into an attitude if you let it.

For example, if someone cuts in front of you in heavy traffic, causing you to slam on the brakes to avoid an accident, you instantly have the emotion of fear, realizing this might be the last conscious moment in your life. You are decidedly unhappy about this. The fear quickly gives way to rage as the stimulus crosses over to the rational (left) side of your brain. That idiot nearly killed you!

Now comes the part where you have a choice. Up to this point, the entire sequence was automatic, and it happened in less than a second. As you decide whether to honk your horn at the other driver, or even tailgate to teach him a lesson, now you are using your rational brain to translate your current attitude into actions. The actions can either be good for you, or they could lead to making a bad situation considerably worse. The choice is up to you. How can you grab on to a choice that is in your long term best interest?

The moment of truth is just after you recognize the situation in the conscious side of your brain. Before taking action, if you can program in a little self talk, that slows the process down enough for you to make a rational decision, you have the opportunity to make a good rather than poor choice. To do this, you need to suspend judgment about how you will react until there is enough time to think about alternatives and consequences. Even though the temptation is to blast the jerk with a heavy dose of your horn, if in that split second you can suspend the action, it gives you a chance to change your attitude.

One simple technique is to try to envision the best possible intent on the part of others who provide unhappy stimuli for you. In our example, you might envision that the person who cut you off might really be a victim of something else that happened to him. Perhaps he spotted a loose tire iron in the road and swerved to prevent hitting it and sending it airborne to crash through your, or someone else’s, windshield. Even though the scenario might seem far-fetched, taking the time to envision the best possible intent does slow down the urge to take action simply based on your rage. It prevents the flash point reaction.

Now you have the opportunity to think through two or three options and focus on the alternatives and potential consequences. It only takes a second or two. You have the opportunity to consciously manage your attitude, and that is truly liberating. When you train your brain to slow down just long enough to think through some options, it puts you in control of your attitudes rather than the other way around. That analysis can save you from making some serious judgment errors that you will regret later.