business, leadership

Stop doing tasks

Have you ever noticed that when you take a vacation, or get pulled into a big project unrelated to your normal work, that the work still seems to get done? Did you ever switch departments in the company or even leave a company and stay in touch with folks, and magically that department or company is still doing fine?

 I noticed it again this holiday season, when I took some time off. I noticed I received and sent a lot less emails. Yet when I came back, we still had events, we still got marketing plans done, we still booked new programming, we still accounted for our operations, we still moved projects forward.

There are a few lessons in this, like humility, and recognizing that this works best when you are developing a succession plan and bench strength, to fill in for you during temporary or permanent absences.

The biggest lesson is not one I will spend time on here, which is to ensure the team understands the objectives and goals of the group at the highest level. There are plenty of writings on this you can check out, but it is critical to long-term success of any group that the team hears clear, concise and consistent messages around what we are trying to accomplish.

The lesson I want to spend time on here, is to stop doing tasks. What I really mean, of course, is to shift our time allocations from the tactical to the strategic. But what I noticed during my short time off is that tasks always seem to get done. Directionally, they get done on time and efficiently when the team has that clear direction I mentioned above. But even without that, any group that cares about their work will get tasks done.

Many leaders, including myself, have a hard time letting go of tasks. We still do too much work ourselves. We know we can do it better and faster, so we do it ourselves and miss the opportunity to teach and train and coach. This is a mindset issue, and is difficult to change without high levels of discipline. This is a great area to seek mentors and ask those around you to be truthtellers and hold you accountable – basically call you out for doing work yourself.

Many leaders aren’t great at reviewing others’ work. I was blessed to work in public accounting where you are trained to review others’ work, and there is a disciplined approach to work product review. This is an area where leaders can get training to build those skills.

Finally, we have to ensure that incentives and expectations are consistent and reinforced – that the strategic work we need to do takes priority over tasks. We have to be willing to sacrifice some near-term “success” (finishing a task) for the bigger picture and stay on track to move forward strategically.

Randomly, as I was writing this, I got to the chapter in the book “Winning Well” that discussed this very topic. The authors noted that the inability to delegate might be driven by control issues, belief the team can’t do the work, you get frustrated quickly when things aren’t on plan, or you feel like you are chasing the work when the team doesn’t follow up.  They then identify three possible root cause for bad delegation – you delegate process, not outcome; you don’t define the finish line; you don’t hold people accountable. I recommend this book for a variety of insights, but this one fit the theme for sure, so I will let you check it out and see their recommendations for overcoming these issues.

Please don’t’ take my post title too literally, but if you try to move your time and your team’s time from the tasks to the projects and strategic thinking, I believe you will have more success as a team.


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