The Most Underestimated Trait in Leadership

July 5, 2017 Lauren Ruef

It was leadership author John Maxwell who said, “Leadership is really more art than science."

And he's right. A leader must be both visionary and pragmatic, good with the numbers, a masterful communicator, and a champion of boosting morale.

But there's one timeless principle when it comes to leadership, and it is focus.

While a leader's responsibilities are many, some things require complete focus. Even Theodore Roosevelt knew this. On the last of several interruptions by his mischievous daughter Alice, Roosevelt commented to a friend:

“I can do one of two things. I can be President of the United States or I can attend to Alice. I cannot possibly do both."

This is the all-too-real dichotomy of a leader. They must prioritize in the moment, and some things will inevitably win out over others.

Multitasking is a common mistake of leaders. They get buried in the details of events, instantaneous demands of other departments, and forget to focus on what's out ahead of them. They neglect perhaps the most important leadership skill of all: good delegation.

More than meets the eye

Delegation is not a buzzword, but a necessity in the modern era of leadership. Without delegation, it is impossible for teams and companies to achieve ambitious goals. But it's more than meets the eye. It's not just a division of labor for efficiency, it's instilling trust in your people, and in turn, raising up future leaders.

Maxwell, again, has advice on this:

“If you want to do a few small things right, do them yourself. If you want to do great things and make a big impact, learn to delegate."

Leaders who don't delegate fall behind. They start missing deadlines on important projects, grow frustrated with marginal details and begin losing sight of what they set out to do.

Here's how the pros delegate to other team members so that they can achieve more mission-critical tasks.

passing the baton by delegating
"If you want to do great things and make a big impact, learn to delegate." - John Maxwell

Start small

If you're just getting warmed up on the process of delegation, don't choose an overwhelming or complicated project as your first shot. Go at this in bite-sized pieces. Don't assign the most important project on your plate right off the bat! Not all tasks are the right ones to give to another person. Ensure you provide enough examples and make time for questions so that the person who is doing the project has every reason to succeed. Don't be surprised if you wish you had done this a long time ago.

Outline expectations and keep communication lines open

There's nothing worse than getting handed a project with unclear parameters and vague directions, because it never ends up pleasing management. Before you take the time to hand off a project to someone else, clarify the goal and how to succeed. Do this with bullet points, example templates, a resource library, or anything that will give your team member a starting point. Without clear expectations, delegation has no chance of producing what you want. Be specific and provide a measurable way to get from A to B, and then step back.

Trust who you appoint

This is very important. There is such a thing as the right person for the right task; however, if the person given the assignment feels stifled, it will not be successful. Make sure you check in once in awhile on progress but above all, ensure that the project owner knows you have confidence in his or her ability to do a good job. Give them the reigns and be enthusiastic about seeing what they can do. Putting in this extra effort ensures they know you are genuine and serious about their input. Know that while someone may not approach a problem how you might do it, you might learn a creative new solution you would have never learned otherwise.

Feedback > Micromanaging

Part of being a good manager is knowing when to intervene and when to step aside. This comes more natural as you get used to how people work. Give the project some time in the hands of someone else and be there for feedback. Resist the urge to "hover" early on and be as flexible as possible. Act more as a resource than a task manager and ensure you don't get too "in the weeds" of the particulars until its time to review. However, be mindful of timelines and schedule feedback sessions so that changes can be made in real-time instead of weeks later, when they feel less relevant.

Don't just delegate menial tasks

Make no mistake, sometimes the grunt work has to be done to move on to higher-level tasks. However, this is a big one to understand. The value you place on the tasks you delegate has a direct correlation to employee's enthusiasm about the project. Give them a variety of projects with a range of responsibilities, but remember this one thing: make sure they grasp its importance in the grand scheme of things. Effort that is recognized and appreciated makes a difference, even with less than desirable projects. If someone feels like what they are doing doesn't matter, they will assume a very low level of ownership in the work. Give people a chance to take a crack at some really big problems and be willing to do anything you assign to someone else. A little trust, a lot of communication, and adequate planning goes a long way in empowering your team to achieve its goals!

About the Author

Lauren Ruef

Lauren is a Research Analyst at Nvoicepay. She has six years of experience in the technology and B2B payments industries.

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