By Mark Murphy
When you break it down, the task of leadership is essentially the pursuit of the mastery of hundreds of different skills.
But as we all know, plenty of leadership skills take time and effort to develop; everything from hiring, giving constructive feedback and leading change.
Yet, surprising as this might sound, one of the most important leadership skills – growing and developing employees – actually takes almost no time to master at all.
But it’s also skill that most leaders aren’t doing well at all.
So ‘what is it?’ I hear you ask. Let’s just take a step back first.
In the study, The State Of Leadership Development, Leadership IQ discovered that only 20% of employees say their leader always takes an active role in helping them grow and develop their full potential.
Further research has revealed even simple learning opportunities are hard to come by for many employees. A separate Leadership IQ study revealed that only 35% of employees say that they’re always learning something new at work, while 52% of people are ‘never’, ‘occasionally’, or ‘rarely’ learning new things. Worse yet is that when someone is always learning new things, they’re ten times more likely to be inspired to give their best effort at work than someone who is never learning.
Leaders can help staff grow by delegating
The good news is that it’s incredibly simple to drastically improve your employees’ growth, development, and learning. It’s as simple as asking yourself one basic question:
“What’s the one activity I currently do that, if delegated to an employee, would compel them to learn something new?”
This simple question works on three levels:
First, leaders need to get better at delegating, both for their own burnout and for the growth of their employees. Letting go of some activities is one of the fastest ways for leaders to prompt learning and development amongst their team.
Second, delegating activities that would require employees to learn something new ensures leaders aren’t delegating the worst activities. Every leader does tasks that are mind-numbing and painful, but delegating only those terrible tasks isn’t a great way to foment employee growth. Leaders need to focus instead on delegating some activities that would increase employees’ capabilities and bolster their career prospects, while also engaging their brains.
Third, as leaders learn to delegate more of their current work, they’ll have more time to perform more of the leadership activities that are too often neglected. Whether these activities concern strategy, operations, people development, etc., most leaders are desperately in need of more time to do the work that advances their careers.
Delegation sounds easy but often isn’t
In theory, delegation should be incredibly simple to implement. So why are so few leaders delegating growth-focused activities?
Well, one of the big delegation impediments that managers face is the type of power they use.
We learned from the test, Which Types Of Power Do You Use?, that managers use a lot of information- and expert-power.
Information-power comes from having insight or information that others don’t have access to, while expert-power comes from doing things better or more expertly than other people.
Consider how most managers make the jump from independent contributor to manager. They often distinguish themselves as the most skilled or informed individual contributor, which puts on them on a high-potential track, and then a promotion follows.
Most managers weren’t chosen on the basis of their charisma, their ability to wield formal authority, or their extensive connections to internal power brokers. Most managers were chosen because they knew more or did their job better than everyone else.
There’s nothing inherently bad about managers using information- and expert-power, but it’s not uncommon for a leader to feel threatened when they’re asked to give up some of that information or develop expertise in others.
And that’s why, even though delegation is such a simple leadership technique, it can be emotionally fraught for managers.
The trick is to re-frame this from “giving up power” to “giving employees a powerful gift.”
Growing employees is one of the most powerful ways to engage and retain them, and given the overflowing to-do lists of the typical leader, there’s a nearly limitless supply of growth opportunities.
For executives and HRDs, your job is to keep reminding managers that the more of these activities they share with their employees, the more high-level work they’ll be able to take on.