My mom taught me to delegate.

Leadership, particularly women’s ways of leadership (h/t Sally Helgesen!), is one of my hobbies. I add that “women’s ways” rider because, while I steadily see women exercising their leadership skills in wonderful and subtle ways, I frequently have those same leaders push back at me that they are NOT leaders. Including the person who taught me my amazing delegation skills.

E is a brilliant delegator, I think, because she starts from a different frame than many. She’s not thinking, “Oh, rats, I have to make someone else do this task; what a nuisance!” Her core question is: how can I quickly and effectively cause this person to handle this task successfully on her own? Where “effectively” means “she doesn’t come back to me for questions…much” and “successfully” means “she meets my expectations on the first pass.” (Remember, this is E’s goal state!)

E has plenty of specific tactics for this that I’ve decided not to outline here today. I’ve seen them all, and used most of them. They’re super-good.

The one I find priceless, though, is the drumbeat of confidence. After making sure the target person is clear on what’s expected, E steps back and repeats–sometimes out loud, sometimes by implication–“I gave this task to you because I know you’re able to do it. So go get it done.”

The stepping back is the secret sauce.

If she watches, she’s super-subtle at it. Mostly she doesn’t, since part of the expectation she sets is a time frame for delivery. Why is she so hands-off? She knows nothing communicates, “You can’t handle this!” as loudly as hovering does. Besides, her focus is on outcomes, not methods. What difference does it make how the task is completed as long as it meets expectations?

And she’s not punitive in how she assesses whether the task result meets those expectations. She knows that the person’s successful task delivery turns around and stokes their independence engine. Which means less time up front for E next time, with even better results.


What I wrote sounds technical and academic. I did that on purpose–remember I started by pointing out that women often hedge about their leadership skills?
E taught me to delegate by being brilliant at teaching me, my sister, and bunches of Girl Scouts how to be independent. 

Her goal was not to delegate tasks, or even to make less work for herself. E plays the long game, always.

She wanted to rear her children to adult independence. She’s been extremely successful by all measures.

And as a side project, she reared two capable managers with amazing delegation skills.

Tell me again how that’s not leadership? @leadershiplookslikeme

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