Learning to delegate like the leader you are.
My favorite miniseries of all time is Band of Brothers. In episode 7 of the series, there is a lesson about leadership that I’ve always found inspiring. In it, the primary character, Winters, has just been promoted to Captain and is standing at the rear of the front line with his commanding officer, Colonel Sink. The battle outside Foy isn’t going well, and Winters sees his old company floundering under a new leader who has no idea what he’s doing. Instinctively Winters picks up his gun and starts running into the fight to help, and immediately Sink yells, “Captian Winters! Goddamit, you do not go out there!!! Tell the battalion commander! Now you get back here!”
There’s so much in this scene that’s amazing, including the decisive, fearless leadership of Spiers, who Winters sends in to take over and save the day. But what stands out to me the most is the lesson for us leaders who want to work on the business but are constantly tempted to get into the “trenches” to work in the business.
Winters had that inner pull we all feel when we first start delegating. We know deep in our gut that we can do it better. It comes in the form of a voice in our heads that feeds us messages like these:
- “This job is too important to leave in the hands of ________.”
- “They’ll mess it up…again.”
- “I can just take care of it. It won’t take too long. It’ll take longer to explain to someone else how to do it than if I just did it myself.”
- “You know, if you want a job done right, you have to do it yourself!”
These messages don’t come from just anywhere. There’s some truth to them. There always is with voices like these. We’ve been burned before and trust lost, but our companies will never grow to their potential if we listen to them. It’s not that they are complete lies; there’s a better way.
You must replace yourself or get crushed.
Colonel Sink knew that Winters could go in and get things done better than his replacement and win the battle, but he also knew that the war was more important. He kept the big picture in mind. Sink zoomed out and saw that for the company to succeed, Winters needed to replace himself and operate at a higher level. That’s what I want to encourage you to do: zoom out and delegate like the leader you are.
How do we do that?
First, we must see our companies as a machine that beautifully hums along when each part contributes to the whole. There’s no ego, no part that’s more important than the rest. It’s all needed to accomplish the goal. Each piece can afford to think about itself, but you, the leader, must keep the big picture in mind and stay zoomed out. That’s why Winters couldn’t jump into the trenches with the men. They needed his direction; to do that, he needed to keep his vantage point.
You must do the same. Sometimes our teams draw us into the trenches. They think they need our help, but we must risk a misunderstanding and stay zoomed out. The best way to help the team is to give them authority and the tools they need to be successful at the job they’ve been given. They need clarity and challenge. They don’t need every step planned out for them, just the goal, the guidelines, and a nudge that tells them that you believe in them.
Second, we must invest in the right people. Winter’s had a leader in command that froze up in the face of battle. He didn’t have the right man, but he pivoted quickly and sent Spiers in. Spiers had proven himself over time. He could be trusted because his character was evident.
I’m not saying that we, as leaders pull people at the first signs of struggle and start replacing them at the drop of a hat. Winters quickly decided to change because he was zoomed out and knew what was best for the company and the mission. Sometimes ego keeps us from making necessary changes because we don’t want to be seen as wrong.
Watch the scene. Ultimately, Speirs did a better job than even Winters would have. That’s the magic of delegation! As leaders, we get to unleash our teams to do better work than we could have. Letting our egos get in the way costs us dearly. We ensure our people can do their best work.
Third, we need to follow up. Delegation is very different than abdication. If we hand off tasks we can’t or don’t like to do and never follow up, we are abdicating our responsibility as the leader. Following up is different than micromanaging. A good follow-up process of checking in allows you and your employee to learn, grow, and improve.
Does your phone ring all day with fires to put out?
A company’s weight and related tasks are too much for one person. If you refuse to delegate, you will always feel overwhelmed, you’ll transfer that stress to your team and begin to resent them, and the company will never grow past your bandwidth. Your job as the leader is to think about the future, the bigger picture; you can’t do that if you’re on the front line doing daily tasks. The kindest thing you can do for your team is let them do their job and support them, not do it for them. Also, remember that when you replace yourself, the job will be completed differently than how you would have done it. You have to be ok with a task being 80% of the way you’d do it, but remember, in the end, it’ll be 100% better than you could have done alone.