You can't do everything yourself

January 16, 2022  |  Twitter
teams   productivity   management  

There's one lesson I've learned repeatedly, and am still learning to this day, as a manager -- you can't do everything yourself.

It sounds simple on the surface, a pretty obvious truth. Yet until now I've succeeded in my career in large part due to my willingness to tackle whatever problems present themselves to me and deliver a solution.

That's not to suggest that I haven't collaborated with or depended on others during that work. I've been a part of several amazing teams whose output as a whole was far greater than the sum of it's parts. In those situations it was simply understood that we all pitched in on the work in front of us, and once a given unit of work was assigned to another teammate, they would take care of it. My focus could stay entirely on the tasks that I picked up, at least until it came time to review my teammates' code.

In short, once I picked up a piece of work, I proceeded knowing that I was responsible for every aspect of the execution of that work. Whether or not to delegate out aspects of that work was not something I had to even consider.

Delegating is a tricky skill, not as simple as it seems on the surface.

When you are making the decision of whether or not to delegate a task, it's never quite as simple as just asking them to take care of it. There are several details to consider in order to make theses decisions in an informed manner.

  1. Does the person have the capacity for this task right now?
  2. Is this the kind of task that the person enjoys and excels at?
  3. Does the person have the requisite knowledge to execute this task?
    1. If not, is it the right kind of growth opportunity for them, and can the task afford the extra time and risk associated with tackling it as a growth opportunity?
  4. What kind of assistance will this person need in accomplishing the task?
  5. Can you delegate outcomes, not activities with minimal assistance?
  6. Should someone else be paired with the person on this task?
  7. Is this a task that I should be handling myself?

Delegating well requires considering each of the above questions. Being able to answer those questions requires being in touch with your team and understanding them as well as the work itself.

It's impossible to know whether a task is delegatable to a person if you don't understand that person's strengths and growth goals, or if you don't understand what skills will be required by the task!

All of this is to say that delegation is a difficult and complex skill. Like any skill, delegation is something that has to be practiced deliberately.

Letting go of control can be scary and difficult, especially when you still feel responsible for the outcomes of the work. But it's absolutely essential to sustainably increase your scope of influence. Embrace your finitude and trust your teammates to do their best work. Micromanagement is an unsustainable and typically undesireable state for any healthy team.

Besides, one of the most valuable things you miss out one when you fail to delegate well is the growth of your teammates. This is a major cost that is difficult to conceptualize because it's all in the possibilities and potentials of those around you. Prioritizing learning on your teams is a powerful thing!

Seeing these growth opportunities and prioritizing them requires having spent the right amount of time and energy working with your teammates on and understanding their growth goals and potentials. Yet another difficult responsibility that takes practice and refinement!

The primary takeaway here is to recognize that these are skills which we inherently do not practice or refine as individual contributors, and when transitioning to a management role they become integral to your success (and by proxy, the success of your team!)

Make sure to give yourself grace when practicing these skills, and approach them with the same intentional effort you would for any other skill. Be deliberate in your practice, use your network to work through difficult situations, and stay in touch with yourself and your people. All things come with time and intention :)