How to Effectively Delegate and Avoid Stealing Success From Your Teammates

Time for a scary admission: I can be a bit of a control freak.

For the longest time, if I was asked about my biggest weakness, I would say just that – I have a hard time letting go of control especially if we’re talking about managing a project or a complicated task. I was the kid in school that preferred to work by himself rather than in a group (yeah…that kid). I knew I would do the project correctly. Someone else? They might screw it up.

As a result, I’d pile on tasks even if I was overwhelmed. If I took it on, I knew it would get done. That was all that mattered! If I did hand something off, I’d be sure to provide step-by-step instructions on how to get it to the finish line.

This might be a bit of an exaggeration. I’ve been steadily trying to get over this fear of letting go especially after I read Marshall Goldsmith’s What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. I’ve gotten better at handing over tasks and allowing others to run with ideas. Still, it’s an area that I’m constantly trying to work on – how to delegate effectively and allow others to crush projects on their own, without my needless meddling.

This concept of effective delegation popped up again recently as I read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. One of the habits (Put First Things First) spoke to this idea of delegating ideas. It broke down two types of delegation – Gofer and Stewardship – and described how the former steals success from teammates while the latter empowers them.

Let’s dive in.

The Difference Between Gofer vs. Stewardship Delegation

Let’s first break down the differences between Gofer and Stewardship delegation. You’ll quickly see that one sounds a lot like the control freak (AKA “me” when I’m not careful) and the latter sounds like your ideal leader.

Gofer delegation is focused on the process. I know exactly how to get from here to there. I just need you to follow my orders to the “T,” and all will be well. Don’t ask questions or interject your own ideas. I just need someone to execute.

Sounds like a tyrant right? Who on earth would work for this person? Better yet, who would ever think of leading this way?

Believe it or not, gofers aren’t terrible people. They just don’t know any better. As Stephen Covey breaks down in the book, gofers are frequently just high producers that are put into leadership roles. They don’t know how to lead per se, but they darn sure know how to produce.

Think of the sales person put in charge of a team. Chances are they were put in charge because they led the division in sales. Now that they’re in a leadership position, no one showed them how to lead. They just know how to sell, damnit! Instead of inspiring the team and moving everyone forward, they fall back to what they’re comfortable with and continue selling. As a manager, they just tell everyone to follow their lead.

Here’s the kicker: If you delegate this way, you’re stealing success from everyone on your team. Even if the team hits a home run, there’s no shared feeling of success. Your teammates didn’t get to play a unique role and highlight their specific talents; they just followed your plan. They’re just cogs.

Let’s contrast that with Stewardship delegation. Now, we’re focused on the results, not the methods that get us there. Your goal is to increase incoming leads by 20%. How you get there is completely up to you. I just want more high-qualified leads (20+% to be exact) coming in by the end of the quarter.

See the difference? Instead of micro-managing you until your head hurts, we just agree on the expected outcome, and you can get to work. You have complete autonomy over the methods used to get us to the finish line.

Stewardship delegation obviously feels way better for all parties involved. I feel at ease knowing the project is taken care of. You feel empowered to put your specific skills to work moving the needle on incoming leads. Everyone is better off!

The Keys to Effective Delegation

So, why doesn’t everyone utilize stewardship delegation? That’s easy – it’s scary as hell! Two devilish thoughts might be running through your head.

What happens if your teammate fails to deliver?

Is it my head on the chopping block then? I mean, it’s their responsibility right?

If we’re going to overcome this mindset – this fear of failure – it’s critical to understand two elements that form the backbone of stewardship delegation.

1. Trust – For a quick, silly analogy, let’s say you picked up a puppy from the adoption center today. You wouldn’t walk out of the store without having the dog on a leash, right? You just met the dog. Who knows how well it’s trained? You’d probably keep it on a leash while you worked on off leash training drills until you were damn sure it wouldn’t run out into the street.

This same principle (although that’s a silly example) applies with people.

If we’ve never worked together, I’m probably not just going to give you a target and a timeline and say “Go.” We need to build a layer of trust! This happens over time. I delegate a little. You deliver. Rinse. Repeat.

2. Boundaries – Let’s say I gave you the goal of increasing incoming leads by 20%. Now, we’re at the end of the quarter, and you deliver the good news. You’ve done it! You’ve increased leads by 20%. You just gave everyone $50 gift cards to come sign up for our $20/year service. Problem solved! 🤦‍♂️

If stewardship delegation is going to work, we need to be on the same page regarding all aspects of the project including:

  • Guidelines – What’s your budget? What does your timeline look like?
  • Results – What does the finish line look like?
  • Intermediate steps – Are there milestones I need to hit along the way?
  • How to get help – Will we check-in weekly or should I just assume all is going well unless I hear otherwise?

There are more components, but those are the key factors. If this delegation system is going to work, we have to be on the same page.

What happens if they knock it out of the park and outshine me?

This line of thinking isn’t talked about as much, but if we’re honest, I think we’ve all thought about it a time or two. If I hand off a project and my coworker crushes it, will I look silly? Might as well just do it myself so I get all the credit.

There’s a lot to unpack in this sentiment, and it’s beyond the scope of this post talking about delegation. But, I think it’s silly to pretend it doesn’t exist.

I’ll just say two things that I feel are good life maxims to live by:

  1. Always look to give away credit; don’t take it for yourself.
  2. Make others look good. End of story.

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This idea of stewardship delegation looks great on paper, but it’s quite hard in practice. Think of it as an investment in the people around you. Over time, it will get easier, and the people around you will get better. Win, win.