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While it seems like a no-brainer on paper, so many business owners fall into an age-old trap that can put a ceiling on the growth potential of their business: not knowing when to delegate.
It’s not just a problem for small business owners. Elon Musk has been criticised for working 120 hours per week as the chairman and chief executive of Tesla, as well as CEO and lead designer at SpaceX, while his company has missed production deadlines.
But delegating without a framework or a strategy to measure success is no better.
Each step, however, is based on performance and trust.
The importance of trust
Jodie Auster, General Manager, Uber Eats, told the ANZ Business Growth podcast that one of the most important things she does as a leader is getting to know new employees before she delegates too much responsibility. And Jodie knows a thing or two about responsibility, having started her career as an emergency doctor before taking on management consulting and the start-up scene.
Regardless of the environment, trust is a key driver of successful working relationships.
Trust, Auster says, is “really a comment on the relationship that you have with a person”.
“For me, that is about getting to know that person as a human being. What motivates them, what they’re passionate about, what they’re interested in doing in their day to day job and as you get to know each other that trust naturally forms, as with any friendship or relationship,” Auster says.
“I think it’s really important to invest time, up front, in getting to know, not just what motivates these people, but their work style and learning style.
“Having that conversation upfront signals care, builds trust, but it also helps [managers] get a sense of where do they think that they’re at, so you’ve immediately gathered a huge amount of information that you would otherwise have to collect in bits and pieces over time.”
Auster argues that even though you can delegate without trust, it puts more pressure on the leader, and that the better plan is to help your employee to grow into the role.
Moving from player to coach
While many think of delegation as an important skill for great leaders, it generally causes more issues further down the line, Auster says.
“The hardest level [for delegation] is a new manager, because you still are required to have that player/coach combination, and I think those people fall under the most stress in an organisation.
“It gets easier as you progress because the production of work goes down.”
“If you want people to fail but feel like they can get back up, you need to take the mistake in context,” Auster says on the podcast.
“It’s at those moments, when your willingness to trust and continue to offer responsibility at a higher level is the most meaningful.”
For new managers, Auster says she coaches them through the stages by asking them a series of questions at each check in point.
“I’ll ask them ‘Do you really need to be doing this? Who can you trust on your team to do this? What structures can you put in place to ensure they’re doing the task to the quality that you insist on when you do it yourself? How can we shift from doing, to coaching and leading over time?’”
The difference between abdication and accountability
There is a nuance to delegation, however, that is important for old and new leaders to grasp – the difference between abdication and accountability.
It’s good management strategy to slowly build trust with your employees to the point when they can operate autonomously, but at the end of the day, the buck stops with the leader.
“If I’ve made that decision [to delegate], I believe I am ultimately accountable for the work of my team,” Auster says.
“While it’s important for the person that work has been delegated to feel accountable for their output, I do feel responsible for the quality and speed of the output.”
Leaders need to balance delegation of responsibility with the support and guidance only they can provide from their vantage point.
“At Uber Eats, many people are trying things for the first time – it may even be their first job out of university, it might be that they’re the first person doing a task because we’re the first team in the world doing this task.
“I want them to feel comfortable with innovating, with experimenting, taking a risk of ownership at the next level, and if they feel like I’ve got their back, that I would put my name against their work, that I’m accountable, ultimately, for the outcome, people can really feel free to fly.”
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