Lesson One To Being a Good Manager: Delegate Often

In 2000, I was a fledgling manager. The company I was at was growing quickly and I had to step up and begin to manage people. I was pretty young at the time, so the thought was somewhat intimidating, but I wasn't given a choice and I was immature enough to think, "Wow! An opportunity to tell people what to do! This is going to be awesome!"

Many of you senior managers are probably laughing at the level of immature ego in that thought, but please cut me some slack: I had no idea what I was doing.

While managing a team of around 2-3, I had received an assignment to put a presentation together for the senior executives. It seemed important, so I thought, "I'll keep this for myself. I'll do a better job than anyone on my team." And, at the time, this was true. I had more technical and presentation experience than anyone on my team.

When my manager, Denise, asked for the presentation when it was due to her, I told her I hadn't completed it in time. Obviously, she wasn't super pleased by this as she'd be on the hook to explain to the rest of the exec team why the presentation was going to be late, but she turned it into a teaching moment.

"Did anyone on your team work on the presentation?", asked Denise.

"No. I thought I'd do a better job," I said.

"You're right, but don't you think three people doing B+ work is better than one person doing A+ work?" asked Denise. She went on, "Plus, how are people ever going to learn to get better and what's the point of giving you a team then?"

She had a point.

Over the years, I've extended this teachable moment to this key fact: Not only should you delegate work to your team, you should delegate often unless you've got a very good reason for keeping something for yourself.

The reason is simple: If you're busy doing individual contributor work, you don't have time to provide quality feedback to your reports, create professional development opportunities for them, or think strategically about how they're functioning organizationally. Plus, it's difficult to context switch between individual contributor mode and manager mode.

So, thanks Denise. You probably don't even remember having this conversation with me, but I do: It was in front of the laser printer at our old office off of Jefferson.

N.B. This is not to say you shouldn't roll your sleeves up sometimes. There are times where something stinks and you've just got to get in there and work with your team or a team member to figure out what's up. Sometimes, if a team member isn't performing up to task, you might need to roll up your sleeves to figure out the problem.