MASTERING A CRITICAL SKILL FOR BUILDING A SUSTAINABLE CAREER
First, a quiz: Are you a Delegator or a Delegavoider?
- Is your inbox out of control?
- Do you find yourself regularly working overtime and/or staying up late at home on tasks “only you” can do?
- Do you assign tasks rather than delegating responsibilities?
- Do you view questions as interruptions?
- Are you frequently interrupted by requests for guidance or clarification?
- Do you frequently redo others’ work?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be a delegavoider!
If you have delegation challenges, now’s the perfect time to do something about them. It’s important to maximize your relationships and resources before times get tough.
As the complexity of your job and your home-life increases, it is more important than ever to master the art (and neuroscience) of delegation. Putting these skills into practice to build high-performing teams is equally important at work and at home, regardless of your job title, and whether you are in a relationship or are raising children.
Delegating At Work:
We know the financial model of law firms is dependent on leverage. Delegation also builds trust(and therefore communication and effectiveness) among team members, and helps to motivate and retain high-performing junior team members.
Having a high preforming team at work may be the only way for you to have a thriving legal practice and the flexibility to tend to expected and unexpected responsibilities outside of work.
Delegating At Home:
Delegation (both sharing responsibilities within families and investing in additional support services) enables us to increase the depth and quality of personal time spent with those who matter most – including ourselves!
Our most important relationships – and resources – are nurtured through delegation. Having primed and reliable pinch hitters in the wings provides extra breathing room and peace of mind in the VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) legal world. And yet we keep falling into the “It’s easier to do it myself” trap.
Five Ways We Talk Ourselves Out of Delegating
Here’s what I hear most. . . and a different perspective you might consider taking for each excuse:
- “It’s faster if I do it.”
This may be an accurate assessment. But at what cost? First, every withheld assignment is a missed opportunity for your team (or your teen!) to develop skills and a sense of ownership and responsibility.
Second, by reaching down for easy assignments rather than up toward growth opportunities, you may be sacrificing your own career development or quality of life.
And finally, assuming that you have multiple, competing responsibilities, is it truly faster if a task takes you 30 minutes to complete but spends a week on your desk before you can even get to it?
- “I can’t trust anyone to do it right.”
There is a lot to unpack in this statement. But simply put, this is most likely your problem – not theirs. Sometimes it is a firm-wide issue, such as poor hiring decisions or a failure to deliver required skills training in a timely manner.
Most of the time, however, mutual distrust comes down to trifecta of ineffective delegation: (1) not giving ownership of the process, (2) being unclear about needs and expectations, and (3) not building in sufficient “learning margins” for team members to ask questions or fix their own mistakes. Most people truly want to do the best job possible, especially when we give them ownership of their own success.
- “My client / family expects me to do the work personally.”
With the exception of highly sensitive, confidential projects, I am hard-pressed to think of an instance where any client specifically wants a senior attorney to perform junior-level work. What they do want is for someone with more experience to oversee, review, and ultimately be accountable for the final product.
At home, does your family really care if you personally drive to the grocery store, cook all meals from scratch, and clean the kitchen? Chances are, what they value most is the quality time spent together at the dinner table and great food (wherever it comes from!).
The good news is that there are many ways to maximize resources, both externally (e.g., hiring extra help, using grocery and laundry delivery services) and internally (i.e., sharing responsibilities for home chores) in a way that works for you.
- “I don’t receive any credit from my firm for training/mentoring junior team members. Advancement and increased compensation go to the lawyers with the highest hours and originations.”
I am the first to acknowledge that there can often be a disconnect between what law firms say and what they do. But as we all know, the profit model of law firms is based on leverage. The numbers typically show that a partner who keeps her team fully utilized, even if her own hours are slightly down, generates more profit for the firm than one who meets or exceeds her own targets but has excess capacity on her team.
Moreover, delegating work frees you up to invest time in more strategic activities that generate even more revenue streams, making you a high-performing individual contributor even as you delegate. Throughout this process, remember that you are responsible for communicating your accomplishments proactively.
- “While I manage major client matters, I don’t officially have my own team. How can I delegate work without stepping on people’s toes – both associates and the senior partners who manage them?”
Leadership has nothing to do with job titles or responsibilities. Rather, it has everything to do with accountability and mutual success. Many of my clients admit to being uncomfortable giving work to others. They often deal with their discomfort by being vague or indirect with directions, deadlines and feedback.
This is a formula for mutual frustration and poor performance, and further fuels the “It’s easier to do it myself” cycle. Articulate your needs and expectations clearly and directly to senior partners and associates. Remember that the tone you use may have a greater impact on the outcome than the words you use.
- “I worry that if I delegate, I will no longer be seen as indispensable.”
Think back to early in your career. As your experience and performance improved, was your supervising partner sidelined or replaced? Being indispensable for what you already know means that you have fewer opportunities to learn new things and grow yourself!
PRACTICE THIS WEEK
- Begin taming your inner delegavoider by considering where and in what ways you fall into the “It’s easier to do it myself” trap.
- Identify one work assignment and one home chore that you could delegate. It’s okay if this seems difficult – that’s precisely why we’re talking about this subject! Consider items that you are unable to get to right away, have longer deadlines, or that you feel less “proprietary” over (i.e. less inclined to direct the process from A to Z.)
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