I had a client who kept a Super Man doll that was still in its original packaging in a straight line of sight from his desk. When I asked him about it, he said that a client of his had given it to him after he’d made some heroic efforts to get a project finished for them. He kept it there to remind himself that he shouldn't play Super Man.
What a brilliant reminder that solo efforts are almost never successful ones. What you will consistently hear from top performing women is that their growth really took off when they stopped trying to be Wonder Woman. After coaching hundreds of leaders, I can confidently say that the ability to delegate is one of the key skills that separate those women who crush their careers and those who don’t.
I find it a bit ironic that there’s a perception that men are bad at asking for help and delegating and women are great at it. I’ve observed just the opposite to be true in the professional world. Women will get it done on their own or die trying. Better to gut it out than have anyone think we don’t know it all or can’t do it all. We have unrealistic expectations about what we should be able to do on our own, and not delegating hurts our careers in 4 big ways:
1. Trying to do it all leads to burnout, mistakes and slow delivery. There’s a limit to how much you can do, and how much you can do well. While you’re trying to ‘do it all’, you’re killing your productivity, your speed to results and the quality of the works you’re delivering.
2. You set yourself up for reverse delegation. Right now, the people around you have you well trained. I know that sounds harsh, but I didn’t write this to make you feel warm and fuzzy. I wrote this to help you get out of your own way and succeed at higher levels. Your team and your family know they can come to you and you will have the answer or will respond with something like, “Just give it to me and I’ll take care of it.” You’re a superhero in your own mind, when in fact they have the power to make you jump.
3. You are limiting your team’s growth. If you always take things on when asked, your team will assume you’ll always come in and ‘save the day’ or do the work they’re just a little bit scared of because it’s a stretch for them. We know that learning and development opportunities drive engagement and lower turnover. If you’re not delegating, you’re not giving your team the opportunity to take on tasks and projects that are routine for you, but stretch assignments and learning opportunities for them. You’re also sending them the message that you don’t trust them to take on new, challenging assignments.
4. You are limiting your own promotion potential. Higher-ups are watching you, and I guarantee that they are assessing how well you delegate. I’ve been in my fair share of succession planning meetings where a person’s ability to delegate was the make or break factor in determining whether they were slated for promotion or not. It’s a BIG deal. Your ability to get things done through others becomes more and more important as your rise through the ranks. You’ve got to show that you’ve got what it takes to do that through delegation.
It’s time to ditch the lasso, Wonder Woman. You have to ‘let go to grow.’ I hereby ask each one of the over-achieving-thanks-I-can-get-it-I-should-be-smart-enough-talented-enough-faster-better-stronger women reading this to delegate.
If you want to be a rock star manager - a Fairygodboss - build a brilliant understanding of how to tap the energies and efforts of the people around you to enable high performance. Know your own unique strengths and spend your time focused on those things and become a master delegator of the rest. If you don’t, those super human efforts will eventually come back to harm you, whether it be in compromised health or relationships or in limited opportunities. Don’t try to be Wonder Woman; build your own Justice League.
Mo is the Founder of The Moxie Exchange, a training and peer mentoring organization for companies who want to recruit, develop, promote and retain women and create inclusive workplaces. She’s an advisor to CEOs of the nation’s fastest growing companies and is the founder 5 successful businesses. She also been known to sing loudly, dance badly and curse like a sailor.
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