A Garden Hack for the Boardroom. After more than 25 years together, my husband and I have fallen into an obvious pattern regarding our gardening activity. See, I am the one who sees the possibilities and has the vision (which admittedly does change every year). I am also the one who does not come equipped with an extra set of muscles and lacks the agility to operate anything heavier than a garden rake. That’s my husband’s area. And accordingly, he affectionately refers to himself as Manuel Labour.
I have a habit of excitedly telling Manuel what I want to happen in our garden. He looks at me with what appears to be a blank stare. Then off he’ll go to pull everything together. Naturally, it is never at the same quick pace I go at, and of course, it all follows a script I can’t understand. I always point out (nicely, of course) the omissions he makes in following my grand vision. And I never fail to question what he thinks he is doing when he digs dangerously close to other plants which do not need moving. After about three minutes of my poking into his process, he does the same thing. He stops; he looks me in the eye, and he snarls. “Tell me what you want done. Don’t tell me how to do it. You can inspect the final goods when I finish!”
No matter how many years we have gardened together, this is the pattern into which we always fall. (To be fair, the amount of time it takes him to put me in my place has gradually fallen from the 45 minutes twenty years ago to the barely three minutes these days.) The sad thing is, as much as I trust my hubby to do the right thing, I always have to be right there alongside him because the garden is my masterpiece.
My behaviour in our garden is the same behaviour that many department heads, function heads and even C-suite executives exhibit. Whatever it is that we are attached to, we are really attached to it. The vision, beauty, and success of whatever we lead are all tied inexplicitly back to us. We might say we trust our people, our teams; however, we know everything comes down to US at the end of the day. And that means we must always peer over shoulders. After all, it’s our reputation on the line.
When I ignore the tone of Manuel Labour’s snarls, I realise he is exactly right. And the way he defines it all is precisely how successful leaders delegate to their teams and people. Delegation is a three-part process that, for the most part, none of us ever finish learning. You see, we humans have a strong need to be in total control – of something.
Here’s the truth of my situation.
Professionally, I took great pride in being an exemplary leader. (The team’s consistent extraordinary results spoke volumes, as did the team members.) It was not easy relinquishing nearly all control. Far too often, I felt useless and powerless. To compensate, I found a different outlet. My garden was the oasis for me to be the control freak.
And every human being has a similar dichotomy. Many good folks are ‘gentle giants’ at home. Decent and trusting and generously allowing everyone to use their strengths. However, professionally, they are control freaks.
And THAT is why I am sharing this story.
The art of delegation. Three steps. None of the steps are difficult. The process of getting there is uncomfortable. However, mastering that discomfort does manifest itself in other parts of our lives.
Tell me what you want done.
I think all leaders are simply outstanding at telling others what needs to be done. I have never met a leader who did not have an overflowing inbox of ‘stuff’. That abundance of to-dos forces the leader to begin to triage it all according to their peoples’ strengths. The best leaders always try to group what needs doing with BOTH the grand vision or plan or goals of the company AND the employee’s personal objectives.
Here’s an example. “Hey Joe! You told me you wanted to exercise your brain cells more this year. I need help with something that is right up your alley. Remember we need to raise our profit by 20% this year? And you and I talked about how you can deliver about $100K simply by changing this one procedure? Can you take a look at this other procedure and see what you can tinker with to winkle out some extra money?”
I love this kind of ‘tell me what you want done’ because it only takes up 10% of your time. 10%! And tells your people you trust them and have great respect from them.
Don’t’ tell me how to do it.
We all try to hire the absolute smartest, cleverest and bestest employees to fit the situation. We demand certain levels of education, of experience, and brain bandwidth. We hire people we think can do the job. So, why oh why do we think they need to be supervised or micro-managed? We too take great pride in our abilities and do not take kindly to someone telling us how to do something. Yet, because we all want to control ‘something,’ we decide we need to micro-manage what’s closest to us—our team.
Here’s an alternative. Tell the person you have given the assignment to that you have complete faith in their abilities. You will be hands-off – unless they come to you with questions. And you are very flexible in helping them bounce alternatives around. Your only stipulation is that the minute the deadline is in danger, they tell you immediately. So you can move quickly to go into Plan B if necessary.
I’ll be honest. This can feel incredibly uncomfortable and may very well leave you feeling naked and vulnerable.
You need to understand that 98% of all human beings rise to the occasion and never let you down. Plus, by turning over the issue entirely to them, you free up to 80% of your day, which allows you to handle the stuff into which you are dying to dig. In other words, you can transition from micro-managing to fulfilling more critical things and cementing your own reputation.
You can inspect the final goods when I am finished!
The best teams are self-managing. They function without the boss. Period. I remember the first time I was (politely) told to go away. My team was sure of its ability and would deliver me the final product as asked. I felt dejected, not respected, adrift and failing at my job. Nothing could be further from the truth.
What I had done was set them up and arm them with everything they wanted and needed. They were engaged, empowered and ALWAYS presented more than what had been asked.
‘Inspection Day’ was always a big deal for all of us. Not only was it NEVER disappointing, but it was also tough for me to keep from doing a happy dance. Where a few things not ‘up to snuff?’ Probably. I never looked for that. Instead, I focused on the results delivered, compared them to what I had asked for and always congratulated the team for their fantastic performance.
All human beings love to be in control – of something. We, the leaders. We, the members of teams. We, the spouses. The best of us find ways in our professional life to allow our teams to have as much control as they can handle. And the best of us struggle to find that balance in our personal lives. The struggle is real. And when done even halfway well – it is extremely rewarding.
Care to share your own struggles?