In my 20 years of experience as a manager of people I have been struck quite often at how many managers, even at a high level, almost incessantly struggle with getting their work done while maintaining a life outside work. What’s more, their people seemed unhappy and often unable to accomplish the organization’s goals. At the same time, many of the most effective managers I have seen, accomplish this while working a 40-hour work week. What is going on?
The answer lies in two of the most crucial responsibilities of management, which are nevertheless only very ineffectively taught: prioritization and delegation. I will come back to prioritization in a next post. However, for managers delegation is probably even more important and a lot of managers are just not very good at it. They are not very good at it because it is hard. The difficulty every manager has to overcome is that effective delegation requires you to let someone else do what you think you can do better yourself.
Allowing people to control their own work is crucial. Self-determination theory, first posed by Edward Deci and Richard Ryan in the 1970’s, and subsequently validated time and again, clearly states that people work best when experiencing a sense of autonomy, competence and relatedness. Control over your own work provides both autonomy and the opportunity to feel competent. Still, the most heard complaint in the workplace about leadership is the over controlling boss.
The difficulty in delegation lies in the fact that a manager must give up control, even though she thinks that things may end up in a worse state by doing so. And often this manager’s sense of being more competent than her subordinates is not without merit: why else would she be the boss? What good managers recognize is that they have to give up control anyway. As a manager, you must resist the temptation to tell people precisely what to do, and allow them to struggle a bit if necessary. Struggle leads to growth, and as a result people will become more competent in their work, while at the same time enjoying it more. Invariably they end up surprising you by coming up with better solutions than you had thought of yourself. After all, they know their job better than you do.
Any organization does better with effectively delegated work, and managers get to do what is really their job: plan for the future and help their people with tools and resources. Extra bonus: in an effective organization, everybody can have a life.