As a child one of the first things we are taught to do is to share. We don’t do it naturally; and we may learn this habit grudgingly (you probably don’t remember this for yourself, but if you have kids, you’ve seen the pattern repeated, haven’t you?).
Some things don’t change much as we grow up.
As leaders we know we have a role to share responsibilities. And while we may intellectually know it is the right thing to do, it may not come naturally. In fact, here are (at least) five reasons why it is hard to do . . .
Pride. We think we should be able to do it all. We think sharing responsibilities is a sign of weakness, that we can’t get it all done. It’s true, our pride and our ego can get in the way of our willingness and ability to share responsibilities, tasks and decisions with others. Is yours?
It’s My Job/Responsibility. We feel that ultimately these tasks and their outcomes are our responsibility, and we take our responsibilities seriously. The only way to insure successful completion is to do it ourselves. This puts the pressure on us, but it gives us more control over the outcomes.
Power (and the need for it). Knowledge is power, right? If we have the data and the information we have the power in a situation. If we share responsibilities, we will be giving away some of that perceived (and very seductive) power. [Want a partial antidote for this one? Read this blog post.
“Father (or Mother) Knows Best.” You’ve been doing this task for a long time, you know it well. Perhaps this is even an area of work where your expertise led to your promotion. In this case it is easy to rationalize that we would share these responsibilities, but it doesn’t make sense, we are the expert and truly know best.
I’m too busy. While some of the others on this list may be the real reason, this is sometimes the one that we use. Busy is a socially acceptable answer and excuse for lots of things. You are leaning on this crutch if you say I’d share this, but I just don’t have time. It will take me longer to share and show than it would to just do it myself – and I have too much to do already.
If you find yourself not sharing as much responsibility, and not doing as much coaching as you could, it is likely that one or more of these factors play a part in it. If so, it is better to recognize it, and recognize that you aren’t alone. That awareness will comfort you to let you know you aren’t alone.
And yet, you couldn’t have gotten promoted to a leadership role (and had any success) without someone else sharing responsibility with you, right?
Sharing Responsibility Anyway
So, how do we get past these barriers and successfully share responsibility with others? Here are four ways to help you get started.
Focus on “Why and What”, not “How”. Our expertise, confidence and pride gets in our way here, because when we do break down and share some responsibility, we want people to do it exactly like we do (after all, we know best, right?). When you hold people to that standard you will easily find reasons to hold on to the tasks yourself. Rather, help people with new responsibilities by helping them see the bigger picture – let them know what needs to be accomplished and why it is important, and let them manage the how themselves. Paradoxically, when you give people the context of “what and why” they are more likely to look to you for help with the “how”.
Provide Training, Support and Encouragement. This one may be obvious, but you can’t be successful in sharing responsibilities by just dumping tasks on people. Your role is as a coach; providing people the training, support and encouragement they need. When they have those things, they will succeed with their new responsibilities and do so faster.
Let it Go. When it is their responsibility, let it go. If you don’t you are micro managing, and no one wants that. Focus on the outcome – are people getting a desired outcome (even if it isn’t exactly how you would do it)? If you are still resisting this idea (see the “But it is my responsibility” perspective from above), you don’t have to let go of the ultimate outcome completely, but you have to let go enough for your team member to succeed. If you don’t, you haven’t really shared the responsibility, just the activity. Remember these three words: Let. It. Go.
Think bigger picture. One of the reasons we have so much trouble with sharing responsibilities is that we are thinking about the short term. In the short term it almost always makes more sense for us to do it. The next time, we likely would do it better. The next time we likely would do it faster. The next time it would be more productive to just do it. And, sharing responsibilities is the right answer for others and the organization in the long term. So think about this activity as an investment. When you invest in something you think longer term and are willing to nurture and support that investment. Changing your perspective of the time horizon will help you change your habits around sharing responsibilities.
Taking the steps above to share more responsibility will allow you to work on the most important things on your plate, not try to do them all. Sharing responsibility will also help you grow your team members, and doing that will help them, you and your organization achieve more and ultimately reach your goals.
And isn’t that your real job?