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TODAY’S STORY
31 Aug
,
2022

Some thoughts on how to delegate well

Leaders are often advised to "focus on what they do best and delegate the rest."

And while the essence is correct, the way delegation is framed in popular parlance is quite harmful. And it's because

DELEGATION DOES NOT SCALE.

At least not like you'd hope it would. Let me explain.

First, when someone says delegation, what they usually mean is

"I’ll do it myself as long as I can, and then if further investment is warranted, I’ll have the experience to hire and instruct a new person."

This is how I did it when I was young and naive, and I see the pattern repeated all the time. And it’s wrong.

I used to hire people to do things I didn't prioritize doing myself. It was a totally selfish hiring strategy.

I was "delegating."

But the trouble with delegation is it results in a team that is not materially better than the founder, at anything. Which is incredibly limiting for the company and stifles its growth long term.

When you’re delegating, you're looking for someone who knows what you know and can do a job you would at least deem "good enough." You’re not looking for greatness, you’re simply finding a substitute for your already-not-world-class performance, and of course you’ll get exactly that.

But as a leader, your job is the opposite:

To build an organization in which each person is incredible and inspires others to become better. Your job is to hire people who are better than you at every position, because only then is your organization increasing its strength and abilities.

Delegation isn’t how you build and scale your team.

If all your hires are meant to take up a part of the work you yourself don't feel is important, what you will end up building is a mediocre team.

Delegation means you still own it but someone else does the work.

Whereas team-building means the team is trusted to own it, has obligations around that, can figure out and execute all the details, and is responsible not just for meeting initial expectations, but increasing their expectations of themselves.

"Delegation" is where you assign away lesser jobs so you can be the hero, because in the final scheme of things, it’s still about you. You’re still the bottleneck in the system.

"Team-building" means you aren't the bottleneck anymore. You're hiring people better than you and entrusting them with entire projects that they see from start to end.

So, consider hiring others from a point-of-view of

"I'm not good at this, so let me hire someone who's better than me at this,"

versus

"I don't have time for this, let me hire someone who can take care of it."

The frame matters and dictates the kind of people you hire and the team you build.

Here's a related thought:

"Picking the right thing to work on is the most important element of productivity and usually almost ignored.”

— Sam Altman (CEO – OpenAI)

Motivation is a skill.

Not in the sense of using task schedulers, making to-do lists, and using Pomodoro timers, but in the sense of getting better at discovering work you find most meaningful and is also impactful.

Now, not all your tasks will be meaningful or impactful. Common advice for leaders and managers here is to "save your energy for the high-impact projects. Aim for “good enough” or satisfactory output in everything else."

What leaders generally tend to do here is to delegate, without first identifying where their contribution and unique skillset matters most.

There are tasks that only you can do really well. And then there are tasks where you can only do a "good-enough" job and there are people out there who can do it way better than you can.

The old frame differentiates between high-impact and low-impact work.

The new frame differentiates between work where you have a unique edge and work where you don't.

And this subtle shift in framing the problem can make all the difference.

Delegate whatever you don't have a unique edge in to people who can do it better than you. Only keep what you're the best at on your plate. This is how you build a team where everyone is better at some skill than everyone else in the team, and where everyone knows their unique value add to the company.

The other way is to build a team where everyone was hired to do the work someone else didn't want to do. The second-order effects of doing this can be disastrous, to say the least.

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