Career Advice | You, your team, and your organization will benefit when you share the wealth of responsibility more fully.
Q: I have a job with a lot of responsibility and I just went through a family crisis. Looking back, I realized that I have not done enough to build support around me, especially with my team at work. What can I do to take action on this realization? —Andre, 46, vice president, customer service
A: You, your team, and your organization will benefit when you share the wealth of responsibility more fully.
First, consider barriers that may have prevented you from delegating more in the past. It’s important to understand your underlying drivers so you can put the right steps in place. One of the common culprits is lack of organization. If you are typically juggling a lot of disparate tasks, bouncing from one thing to another, it’s hard to bring others in to help carry the load.
Another is fear of not being needed. If you keep a tight hand on everything, it’s easier to imagine that you’re indispensable. But the style of manager who relies on this level of control is not as valuable to a company as a more empowering leader, so you’re actually hurting yourself at a deeper level.
You also need clarity about your actual job — the tasks you do and the outcomes you and your team are focused on. Using some categories that make sense for you, map out your responsibilities: technical, communication, staff development, etc.
Then think about the people on your team. What would fit for each in terms of ways to take some of the load? For example, if you have a lot of folks new to the workforce, are there people better at (and more interested in) training or mentoring? Rather than leaving that to chance, consider making it part of their job. Or set up liaison responsibilities with other departments to help your team build connections while reducing dependency on you.
You then become the conductor, guiding the movements of the team rather than executing on your own. In this higher level of leadership, you help people find solutions to problems instead of solving them. You inspire pursuit of a shared outcome instead of dictating the approach. And you provide a safety net for people to take risks and develop their capabilities.
This takes a lot of mutual trust. If you’ve been a “command and control” manager, it may be hard for you to trust the team. You’ll need to accept that they may do things differently than you did, and that it can get the right outcome. Likewise, they’ll need to trust your sincerity and believe that they’re not being set up to fail.
The key will be a new, deeper level of communication. Have regular team meetings, and keep the agenda light with focus on talking to each other. Practice your active listening so that you don’t shut people down. Also be committed to regular one-on-ones to build connection and prevent small issues from getting out of control.
Once you have the new dynamic in place — and it won’t happen overnight — you have a team that can operate smoothly even when external situations are challenging.
Submit questions to Liz Reyer at firstname.lastname@example.org.