“Imagine that you have delegated literally everything you are responsible for. You’ve given it all to other people in the organization and have a blank slate before you. You now have the opportunity to take back or add one specific responsibility – this is where you will concentrate your time and effort. You want to choose the highest-value activity to engage in. What will it be?”
When we ask this question of leaders, they rarely hesitate. On average, in less than 15 seconds, they can clearly articulate what their highest-value activity is. That is not a mystery. The mystery is, why don’t they spend a larger portion of their time on that activity? When we pose that follow-up question, we often discover that the leader is simply stuck in a rut. They have been doing various legacy tasks for so long that they find it hard to let go. Legacy tasks consume their time, preventing them from engaging in activities that deliver greater value.
This always leads to an interesting and introspective discussion. Intuitively, leaders know where they should be concentrating their time, yet they cannot make themselves do it. For instance, they may feel that they do not have someone they can delegate a task to with confidence. Or, they may believe that it is part of their job and that they cannot delegate it.
Delegation, however, is critical. It is only by delegating that you as a leader can give yourself the opportunity to focus more of your time on higher-value activities. It is by doing those activities that you will contribute the most toward your organization’s goals – and that is your primary job.
Delegation is also a key way of expanding the horizons and skillsets of the people who report to you. When you delegate responsibilities, you give your people a chance to grow. Additionally, you may discover that they have new and creative ways of completing tasks that are better in terms of efficiency, costs, or outcomes.
Given that delegation is a tough leadership skill to master, we encourage you to take it in small steps. To begin, identify just one or two legacy tasks and make a plan to delegate them within the next three to six months. When those tasks are off your plate, take the time that would have been consumed by them and focus it on your highest-value activity. You will need to be intentional about this “time swap” … if you are not careful, the time you gain from delegating will be frittered away on other less-valuable tasks.
You may ask, “What if I have nobody to delegate tasks to?” That is a fair and reasonable question. If that is the case, examine each of the legacy tasks you are now doing in terms of its value and criticality to the organization, then answer the following:
- Can we hire someone to do this task?
- Can this task be done less frequently?
- Can this task be eliminated in its entirety?
- Can this task be outsourced to consultants or contractors?
- Can this task be streamlined so that it takes less time and effort?
Whenever the answer to one of these questions is “yes,” you have effectively gained time that you can apply to your highest-value work.
Often, the hardest part of getting legacy tasks off your desk is actually a fear of letting go. We encourage you: give yourself permission to let go. In doing so, you will be able to bring your unique skills and strengths to bear on the tasks that have the highest value. That is where success lies – for you and for your business.