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Leadership Lesson: How I Learned to Let Go and Trust My Team

Stephanie Eidelman, Chair of WCF, used to struggle with delegating tasks to her team. She shares how she changed and how the change made her a better leader.

 

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Last summer Women in Consumer Finance hosted a virtual workshop about leadership. One of the topics that came up was, not surprisingly, delegation. Many participants admitted they have trouble delegating, or that they are frustrated because their manager doesn’t delegate to them. Since I’ve been a leader for a long time, the workshop encouraged me to consider my own performance in this area. The fact is, I haven’t been much of a delegator until just recently. So, I thought it might be helpful to others if I shared what I’ve observed about myself, what got in my way, and what the costs have been.

 

There is probably a much longer list but here are six key things that I know stopped me from delegating:

  1. I’m a perfectionist. Anyone who knows me will tell you this. My internal dialogue has been, “Darn it, our reputation depends on every “I” being dotted and “T” being crossed!” Literally. I am the grammar police.

  2. I assume that nobody else will care as much about the business as I do because I’m the owner. So, if I don’t have my hands on it, how will I know for sure we’ve given it our all?

  3. I love to be in control. This is true in many aspects of my life. In fact, it’s why I physically don’t do anything which requires “going down fast” (like rollercoasters, or downhill skiing)

  4. I make assumptions about people’s willingness or capacity to take on a new responsibility. I tell myself their plate is full and another assignment will only make this worse. Or maybe they’ve had a personal setback, and I assume now is not the time.

  5. I secretly (or not so secretly) love to do the thing I should delegate. It’s in my comfort zone. And delegating it would mean that I’d have to spend my time on something that stretches me. I want to do that… but somehow I find myself avoiding it.

  6. I don’t have the time. Delegating (the first time) takes a lot longer than doing it yourself. Or at least this is what I tell myself... and the time never seems right to make that extra effort to explain or document to the level required for a hand-off.

When I joined my company more than 20 years ago, my stepfather was the owner. He would constantly come up with ideas that I needed to decipher, prioritize and execute. It was impossible to keep up. He wondered why I never came up with any ideas of my own, and because I didn’t do so, he believed the responsibility fell to him. It was a vicious cycle. And a real source of tension. It was maddening. I saw myself as a really competent person with the desire to grow. But I simply didn’t feel I had the space to do it. 

Now that I own the company and I stop to think about how my staff has likely felt over the years, I kind of say… “Oh. Ugh.” The irony is not lost on me. 

 

What did not delegating cost me?

Several years ago I started to see that not delegating was holding me back. It held me back personally, and it held my company back. We could have been leveraging all of our talent to its fullest potential, but I didn’t always let that happen. So, while we’ve done well, I can’t help but think we could have done even better. And, of course, it held back those to whom I failed to delegate. 

 

Here’s what you lose when you don’t delegate (whether you own the company, run the department, or manage the project):

  1. Better, stronger ideas - Two (or more) brains are better than one – diversity of thought and the ability to avoid thinking bias are critical to making better decisions and seeing new opportunities.

  2. A team that’s in the know and ready to go - Having a “bench” of talent that is engaged and “in the know” means that it’s much easier to cover roles in case of vacations, emergencies, or departures from the company.

  3. A happy team - Allowing people to be their best by getting to contribute to decision-making and leadership means they will be happier and more motivated to contribute.

  4. Your own opportunities - If you ever want to move up, get promoted, or do something different, you will be held back if you haven’t built others up to do the same. 

By the beginning of the pandemic, I was literally working seven days a week, at all hours. It was a bad example for my team and an unhealthy pattern for me. Ironically (or maybe not so ironically) it was the pandemic that finally made me realize that I wanted the opportunity to grow personally and to focus on something new. But I couldn’t do it until I learned to let go. 

 

I learned to let go and trust my team.

I think the dramatic day-to-day change made a big difference. Leaving the office behind, walking outside almost every day, getting at least 8 hours of sleep, and working from home all combined to shake me out of the pattern I was in.

As we all get back to normal(ish), I can honestly say my world looks different than it did two-and-a-half years ago. I have a fantastic and smart team that I trust to use their judgment, be creative, think about the future, make their own mistakes, learn their own lessons, and, often… leave me out of it. This has allowed me to do new things that are out of my comfort zone, and let go of much of the stress of feeling that all decisions are (or should be) on me. I think my team is happier. I know I am happier. It’s the opposite of a vicious cycle.