The Simple Math Behind Delegation

Advisory | Glenn L. Friedman | Nov 30, 2020

One of the biggest challenges that causes leaders to struggle is the inability or unwillingness to delegate. In many cases, leaders think they can only succeed by delegating to someone who can replicate their performance. This notion of a “mini-me” really means that I want someone who can do just as much work as me and do the work the same way as me. However, this mindset takes too narrow a view of how to use delegation to get work done.

I attended a seminar 35 years ago that has had a profound effect on my professional life, from my time as a young entrepreneur launching an accounting firm to my current role as CEO of Prager Metis.

The person leading the session said that if you’re looking for someone to do 100 percent of what you do, the way you do it, your expectations are unrealistic. Every individual is different, with different levels of expertise and different approaches to getting work done.

Instead, look for someone who can do 66 percent of the work. If you can do this, you have freed up two-thirds of your time to devote to other tasks.

As an accountant who lives by the numbers, this was an eye opener for me. Rather than having a narrow view of delegation that says you should match 100 percent with 100 percent, delegate enough to free up the majority of your time.

Now, you have leverage. You have a team who can take over most of what you do. Maybe you’ve even been fortunate enough to delegate to someone who can do the work even better than you yourself have done it. After all, people have different skill sets and delegation can also lead to personal growth for those you delegate to. Everyone wins; not only will you challenge those around you to improve their skills, you also have the potential to grow far beyond what you as an individual can accomplish on your own.

After all, time is finite. Even if you’re a superstar, you’re still capped with regards to what you can accomplish during a certain timeframe.

This delegation model not only enables the organization to accomplish more, but it also allows you to reclaim precious time. While your team handles the majority of the day-to-day responsibilities, and technology is used to automate many baseline functions, you can leverage your time to apply your highest-value skills and expertise to strategic, growth-oriented tasks.

That’s what leaders do.

Ever since I attended that seminar, I’ve tried to leverage myself and my team more effectively. Frankly, this is a big part of leadership. Once you decide you want to be a leader, you need people to lead.

This brings us to the relationship between delegation and team building. In a perfect world, you would surround yourself with people who have the potential to exceed that 66 percent output. Perhaps they can grow to 100 percent.

What you don’t want is a team comprised of people who can’t contribute 66 percent and offer no potential for growth. A single weak link is unfair to the rest of your team and can drag down your whole organization. Picking up the slack for someone who underperforms will have a negative impact on other team members, personally and professionally. It affects everyone’s productivity and work-life balance. It can be downright exhausting.

Of course, leaders need to take an active role in supporting the growth of their team. Through mentorship and training, you can help each team member do more. At the same time, you create more time for yourself to focus on higher-value tasks and create more leverage.

A common excuse for failing to build a highly qualified team and delegate accordingly is the notion that a top performer will turn on the leader and the organization.

They’ll take my clients.
They’ll take my job.
They’ll leave my company and take everything they’ve learned with them.

And, what I’ve found to be a common yet unspoken excuse:

I’m comfortable with what I’m doing and I’m afraid to challenge myself with higher-level thinking.

There’s no room for insecurity if you want to be a strong, respected leader and retain the next generation of leaders. When you build trust and afford each team member opportunities for growth, you won’t have to worry about these things happening.

Instead of trying to find your equal or your clone, look for people whose skills and talents complement yours. Fill each seat in your organization with the best talent you can afford and the best talent the marketplace has to offer. Show that you trust them to do what you hired them to do.

Without a solid team, a deep bench, and trust and support from the top down, the growth potential of each individual and the organization will be severely limited. The fears and insecurities of people leaving and taking your clients will be more likely to come to fruition.

Delegation and team building, when approached thoughtfully and strategically, create opportunity, not risk. Build the right team. Earn their trust. Support their growth. Give them responsibility. Hold them accountable but don’t interfere. Let them do the work. Reclaim and leverage your time.

With the right people and the right approach to leadership, you’ll be able to leverage higher performance and productivity. This will in turn create more opportunities for you and the organization as a whole to make everyone’s world, worth more.


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