A new leader faces this dilemma often. “Should I do the task myself, train my team, or delegate it?” I am sure you have encountered the same puzzle before. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. The problem is more common than you think.
When I started my first venture, I wanted to do everything myself.
If a task was too hard, I feared to assign it to a team member. “What if they mess up?” I asked myself biting my fingernails. If a task required grooming people, I would think, “Well, doing the job myself will take lesser time than training.”
For a large project, I wanted to involve myself down to the very last detail.
Do these examples sound like the situation you’re into right now? Let me tell you what happened to my story. Such behavior of mine severely crippled the team. I failed to utilise the talent people had. Over time, the business failed.
Common mental blocks for leaders
Leaders have different mental barriers in their heads. I will list out three of the most common ones. These are more prominent in people who take up a leadership role after being an expert technician in a specific field. An individual contributor has difficulty shifting his mindset from executing tasks to leading people.
1. I can do the job myself
When a task needs action, you start evaluating the ease of completing the job against the effort required to train people. Since you have spent years developing expertise, you will need lesser time to do it yourself than training a new person. The joy which comes out of doing the job yourself also plays a role.
The first time I played the role of a leader was for a team of programmers. I had loved writing code since my teenage years. All of a sudden, I felt uncomfortable training the team members to do the job. My hands were itching to do some programming myself.
2. I need to be the expert
Leaders have trouble accepting the fact that team members can know more about a topic than they do. You believe the leader has to be the most talented person in the team.
During our business venture, I wanted to learn every technology in extreme detail. I intended to be capable enough to answer any query the team had. I spent most of my time developing expertise in programming even after I took up a leadership role.
3. The team member won’t deliver the same quality
Leaders often hesitate to delegate tasks because they fear that the team member will perform an average job.
You feel that even if you train a team member, he won’t deliver the quality you can. You forget that when you started as a beginner, you weren’t as capable as you are right now. To ensure things don’t go wrong, you take up the task yourself.
I had the habit of taking up all the tougher portions of programming myself. I wasn’t trying to brag about my abilities. I thought the team members wouldn’t accomplish the task. Due to that mental barrier, I never even tried assigning the harder tasks to the team members.
When should a leader solve, train, and delegate:
You cannot keep doing all the tasks yourself forever. Over time, you will become a bottleneck and prevent yourself from achieving great things.
Try taking a page of the successful leaders of large organisations. They relinquished control and tapped into the talent of people to achieve greatness. A great leader sets the vision and achieves it with teamwork. Even the famous movie stars, sports icons, and singers have a massive team working for them.
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” (African proverb)
Here are a few guidelines to help you identify when you must do a task yourself, train people, or delegate. You cannot generalise them for every scenario because certain circumstances call for a different action. But, you can use this as a reference if you are confused about making a decision.
1. When should you do the task yourself
Here are the cases where performing the task yourself as the leader is justified:
One time job
If a task is a one time job that does not need to be done in the future, you can do it yourself. Since the job is unlikely to come up again, whether you or a team member works on it, makes no difference. In such cases, the best use of time is to choose the person most capable of executing it quickly.
Time-sensitive with major consequences
If a task is time sensitive and you know how to complete it the fastest, you can jump on to it. For example, imagine you leading a software company, and an unexpected bug shows up stalling your product.
If you know the code inch to inch, you will reduce the consequences by solving the problem yourself. Since the situation is time-sensitive and can damage business, resolving the bug should be your priority.
No challenge or future potential for the team
Some of the tasks add no value to the team members’ growth or challenge their skills. For example, if you are running a restaurant, asking a chef to handle your taxes will only give him Monday blues in the long run. You’re better off doing it yourself or outsourcing the job to the right person.
2. When should you train others
Here are the cases where training other team members is the right decision:
The long term benefits outweigh the current situation
In some cases, you are capable of doing the task faster. But over time, if people can develop the same expertise, you must train others even if teaching takes more time than doing the job yourself.
For example, you might have excellent interior designing skills. If you have a team, the new members will not be able to complete the job as efficiently as you do. If you spend time training your people, over time, they will improve and deliver.
Do not forget that you did not have the same level of skills a few years ago. You learned over time. Give people the same opportunity.
One person expertise isn’t scalable
Another common situation is where performing the task yourself isn’t sustainable. For example, if you opened a restaurant, you can handle the cooking during the first few months. When your business grows, you cannot cook for every single customer. Your chefs must improve their culinary skills.
3. When should you delegate
Here are the cases where delegating the task is most appropriate:
To challenge your people to grow
When you have a team, you must provide a platform for people to improve. When you have a task to complete which isn’t urgent, you must ask your team members to execute it even if you can do it in an instant. Since you’re not in a hurry, challenging people will help your team grow over time.
When you don’t know how to perform the task yourself
In cases where you do not know the solution yourself, allow others to take the lead. For example, let’s assume you are leading a customer support team and you want to find a method to increase feedback from customers. If you do not know a way yourself, allow a team member to solve the problem. If you provide them an opportunity and the right motivation, people will surprise you with their talent.
When the job isn’t where your focus should be
Some of the tasks you work on are better off delegated. For example, if you run a software company, you are wasting your time scanning excel sheets. Your time is better spent setting a vision and providing the right guidance to your team. Delegate the tasks which eat up your time and focus on your team members. After all, that is the reason why hierarchies exist.
When you move from an individual contributor to a leader, you’re expected to play a different role. If you spend most of your time doing the same tasks as before, you’re not doing justice to your position or your people.
To carry out leadership effectively, you will have to give up some of the tasks you enjoy doing. Being a leader comes with a lot of sacrifices.
Today, there is a great dearth of people who can handle high-level leadership positions. That isn’t because there is a shortage of capable people. It is just that there are not enough people who are willing to pay the price.
Maxim Dsouza has over who extensive experience with leadership in both start-ups and large corporations. On his blog Productive Club, he shares useful tips on productivity, time management, entrepreneurship, and cognitive biases.
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