Face Your Fears
A common challenge that I hear from business owners and managers is their lack of success in
effective delegation. I hope that you agree that learning how to effectively delegate is a key to
your freedom. Without effective delegation, face it, you have to do it YOURSELF!
To be clearly understood, let me first define delegation: Delegation is passing a task to another
person, and that person successfully completes the task. Delegation IS NOT abdication, which is
abandoning your responsibility, dumping it on someone else, and then blaming that person when
there is failure. Many people equate delegation with abdication and as a result are reluctant to
delegate. This reluctance is expressed as follows: “If you want anything done right, you have to
do it yourself” and “Nobody does it better than me” and “No one cares like I do” and “It’s just
easier to do it myself than to try to teach someone else to do it”, and “You can’t find good
people”. You likely know this story all too well.
The myriad of excuses I have heard regarding the failure to delegate can be summed up in one
word – FEAR. Fear that the job won’t get done. Fear that the job won’t get done right. Fear
that I won’t be able to find someone qualified and willing to do the job right. Fear that my
customers won’t like anyone but me. Fear that it will be harder to teach someone to do it rather
than just doing it myself. Fear that they will drop the ball. Sometimes a fear that someone may
do it better than me!
All fear is a negative belief about the future. It is always false, because no one perfectly knows
the future. To address fear, you need to bring it out of the closet into the bright light and unravel
it. Fear is often rooted in false beliefs, half-truths, prejudice, ignorance, and stubbornness. The
reality is that you CAN attract and hire great people that can and will effectively carry out tasks
and responsibilities, provided there is a good system and communication in place. The right
person with the right system, communication and accountabilities will get the job done.
Delegation is not the problem. It is the answer. Ineffective and sloppy delegation does not work.
The truth is that the lack of effective delegation is holding you hostage. The first step to breaking free is to drop your fears and false beliefs concerning delegation. Forget your past failures. Commit to learning how to effectively delegate. I will show you how.
Drop Expectations and Create Agreements
One of the most powerful distinctions that will help you effectively delegate is the distinction
between expectations and agreements. I am indebted to business coach Steve Chandler for
teaching me this powerful concept.
Business owners and managers are often frustrated because the team often falls short of their
expectations. You expect them to show up on time. You expect them to follow through. You
expect them to go that extra mile and bring some new ideas to the meeting. I am certain that if I
interviewed your team members, they would have their own expectations as well.
Unmet expectations produce disappointment. Trying to meet other’s expectations is often
frustrating and can make a person feel like a little child. Expectations are stories that we make
up. Because they are clear to us, we assume that they are clear to others. Expectations without
effective communication lead to disaster.
To create an effective agreement, the team needs to lay all of their expectations on the table.
Then you can create an agreement that everyone can honor. Trying to meet expectations is
draining and laborious. Creating and honoring agreements is fun and energizing. People resist
trying to meet other’s expectations, but gladly honor their own agreements. Creating agreements
also stimulates full ownership and buy-in of the team.
I will use one simple example that illustrates the problem with expectations. Suppose you want
to establish a regular team meeting. You mention to John, Susie and Jack that you want to start
getting together the first thing Monday morning. Monday rolls around and you come in a little
early to prepare your agenda. You are all excited and ready for a great team huddle. It’s 8:00
AM. Susie is there, Jack is getting his coffee and catching up on weekend football scores with
Jerry, and John is nowhere to be found. Why even try!?! Doesn’t anyone care about the
business and what needs to get done!?!
The problem is you had no clear agreement, but instead have unmet expectations. Your team
members have their own expectations as well. Susie was ready to go five minutes early. She’s
frustrated and really didn’t expect this to work anyway. John had to drop his son off at school,
and arrived at ten after eight. He expected everyone to understand his situation. Jack was at the
office before 8:00, but he just wanted to get a little coffee and socialize first. He just expects you
understand that being social and laid back is the best way to work together.
When there is a lack of communication, then everyone believes their own story formulated from
their own beliefs and expectations. Creating agreements is about establishing a shared goal and a
clear commitment to a written plan of action. Asking great open-ended questions and listening
are the tools that create agreements. Documented agreements minimize expectations and can
even be signed by every involved team member to affirm their commitment.
So assemble your team. Ask them to share their expectations, and then share yours. Establish a
clear outcome, and then create and commit to a winning agreement. It is a challenge, but well
Seek a System Solution
Wouldn’t it be great when you are ready to delegate a task if you had a science fiction machine
that could fully transfer your thoughts and brain into another person’s head with a simple flip of
the switch! Well, as far as I know, that one isn’t available yet.
One of the key tools for effective delegation is systems. How is it that McDonalds can deliver a
consistent product from thousands of stores worldwide using teen age workers? It is because
they have created a detailed documented system for every detail of operating a franchise store.
You can create a written, documented system for your business as well.
At this point, many skeptics argue, “You don’t understand. Our business is different. Every situation is different. Each customer’s need is unique.” And on goes the mindset and kickback that keep business owners and managers chained to their work. Over the last several years of working with hundreds of clients in many different businesses, I have yet to find one that was not able to systematize a significant amount of what they do to facilitate effective delegation. The rule of thumb is to “Systematize the Routine and Humanize the Exception.” I can be sure that no matter what your business, around 80% of it is routine and repeatable and can therefore be systematized.
Here is a great place to start. Make a list of the routine tasks that you perform on a regular basis.
What are those tasks that you do on a daily, weekly, monthly, or quarterly cycle? Pick out one
task that might be a bit tedious and laborious and time consuming, and that also doesn’t require a
high skill level to complete. Then create a simple stepwise checklist to complete that task. You
now have a system that will increase your likelihood of effective delegation. It really is that
simple and it does work. The biggest challenge is between your ears. Take the checklist, and
perform each step while your employee observes and asks questions. Then let them perform
each step using the checklist while you observe. Once you can see that they basically have it, let
them do it without your oversight and then report the result to you upon completion.
It’s your choice. You can continue to hold onto your beliefs that no one else can do it, or take
action by creating a system, and then letting them make some mistakes as they learn to
effectively do it for you.
Embrace Positive Accountability
When you hear the word “accountability”, what comes to mind? Does it produce a positive,
upbeat, exciting feeling, or a negative, uncomfortable, unpleasant feeling?
When I first start mentoring a person, they almost always have negative emotions and ideas
associated with accountability. They carry bad memories of annual evaluations with supervisors
or bosses that were disconnected or on a power trip. They have visions of tense meetings ending
in probation and employee discipline. They certainly don’t seek out “constructive criticism” and
“performance feedback evaluation” with delight.
I would like to challenge you to take another view. Think about top performing athletes. How
do you think they view accountability, feedback, and constructive criticism? Most of them
welcome and even pay high dollars to get it. They realize to be the best at what they do, they
need to have a clear picture of where they are, how they are doing, and what needs to change and
Positive accountability is a key to effective delegation. To make it positive, positioning and
purpose is the key. Ken Blanchard in his classic “One Minute Manager” shares that feedback is
the breakfast of champions. People love to play and win games, and to know that they are a
winner, they need to have a score. Accountability is all about providing your team with regular
measurable feedback on their performance. Most jobs have three to five critical responsibilities
that can be measured. If the team member consistently fulfills those key duties, then they are
effective and doing well. As their leader, it is your responsibility to create a measurable system
of feedback based on those key responsibilities. I use the term “Key Performance Indicators”
(KPIs). Once you have established KPIs for each team position, you can provide regular
consistent feedback and measure improvement. This creates an environment where you can
catch each member doing it right, recognize and celebrate improvement, and respond to the
specific areas that need attention and help. Forget the annual evaluation! This approach to
evaluation is frequent and on-going.
Employees love to know that they are doing a good job. They also appreciate recognition and
communication so they can be the best they can be. Once you identify the most important
desired performance and outcome for each team position, you are ready to communicate those
outcomes and create some amazing agreements with each team member. If you do this right, it
is a positive and rewarding process that employees appreciate and even anticipate with open
Take Some Dance Lessons and Have Some Fun
I love this analogy because it captures so many principles of effective delegation. To create
effective results in relationships, start dancing and quit wrestling!
Many business owners and managers struggle and strain with delegation. They have the mindset
that to be effective, you must overpower your employees and force them into submission. It is
literally a wrestling match and the starting bell rings at the beginning of each shift or day. It is a
contest of will and strategy. Sometimes your “best” employee is the strongest, the most talented,
and the most self-willed. You feel like if you let up for a moment, “they” will gain the
advantage. Or you just “give in” and let them “have their way”.
Enough is enough! Who has the energy or the desire to run their business or department like a
military camp? There is a better and more effective way to manage, and it follows the analogy
of dancing vs. wrestling.
Dancing requires cooperation, creativity, a healthy relationship, clearly defined steps, someone
to lead, and a common plan. It also only works when the two people involved are open and
honest and communicate. For those who like to dance, it is an enjoyable, artistic, energizing
In conclusion, if you want your business to grow, and you also want to gain some freedom and
life balance at the same time, effective delegation is the key. It is not only possible, but can be
an enjoyable and rewarding experience as well