Over the last few years I’ve grown as a leader. I’ve learned that as I grow in my career and as I grow the team around me, the work load does not get easier - it gets much heavier. Of course, delegating is a skill that helps with the work load, but, for me at least, there are several barriers to get through before becoming effective at it.
I started at my current job at Lessonly as the Lead Engineer - that is, I was the only engineer. At this point, the work load was relatively easy to manage. I worked directly with the heads of the other departments (the one-person departments) to prioritize what needed to be done, technically. And the needs were relatively simple as we were feeling out our market’s needs.
Over time, we grew the engineering team and I slowly added more hats to my head - architect, manager, project manager, devops, and anything else the engineering team needed, all while still being a developer. As the team grew, the work load grew. And as the work load grew, I needed to learn how to spread my responsibilities across the team to keep from disappointing my teammates.
When I didn’t delegate effectively and I spread myself too thin, I became ineffective at the things I was trying to do. I was switching contexts constantly, letting things that others were relying on me for slip, forgetting to check in on things that I needed to check in on. And worst of all, I didn’t perform half of my respsonsibilities as a manager of people. I think I did a decent job of making sure my teammates had what they needed in the moment, but I’m sure I wasn’t effective with helping them grow.
During that experience, I ran into three primary barriers to being effective at delegating: trust in my teammates, being okay with adding to my teammates’ work load, and sharing my knowledge so that my teammates are able to take on my responsibilities.
Trusting my teammates
If I’m going to ask my teammates to help me with my responsibilities, I need to trust them. If I don’t, then I’m certainly not going to trust them with taking care of something I need to deliver for the company.
Fortunately, this comes relatively easily with my current team, as I am surrounded by a lot of really smart people. When they agree to do something, I know that they will deliver and without keeping anybody waiting. And it’s not out of fear for their jobs or anything - they’re just good people.
At Lessonly, we value the three attributes of the Ideal Team Player as defined by Patrick Lencioni. We hire people who are humble, hungry, and people smart. It’s those qualities that make it easy to trust my team.
Being okay with adding to my teammates’ work load
This one is a bit harder. I like my teammates. I know they’re all busy. Shouldn’t I avoid adding more to their plates so that they can focus on whatever they’re currently doing?
Here’s the thing: they’re good people. They’re smart. They want to make sure the team succeeds. They want to help. They can tell me when they have too much on their plate.
I just have to keep this in mind. It’s tough, but the more I do it, the more I realize that my teammates actually want the added responsibility. Think about that. If I don’t allow others to take on some of my respsonsibilities, I’m denying them the opportunity to learn new things and grow in their own careers. Holy crap, it’s not just about me.
Getting the knowledge out of my head
Okay, so at this point I’ve decided that it’s okay to pawn off some of what I do to others. But now, I have a lot of knowledge about all those responsibilities stored neatly in my own brain where nobody else can get at it. This is where I struggle currently.
In my position, I make a bunch of decisions about how things should work, including how our web hosting is organized, how data flows between systems, and how we resolve certain kinds of customer requests. I’ve been offloading these things more and more, but it seems like every time I do, I find that I haven’t documented anything.
Luckily, I work at a company that builds software for this very kind of knowledge sharing. I build a lesson in our internal Lessonly account documenting the thing I know so that others can discover it (and share it directly with whomever I’m asking to take it on) and so that I’m not the only one who knows how to do it.
The thing I’m working on now is proactive documentation. Sure, I might be the only one doing some things now, but a lot could happen. What happens if I don’t do a thing for a long time and I forget how I did it? What if I’m on vacation and somebody else needs to take care of it? What if I’m just too busy one day to do the thing, write documentation about it, or even explain it to someone else?
So now, as I discover things I know that nobody else knows, I am trying to document those things proactively before anybody needs to know those things.
Delegating is hard to do effectively. It’s important for a lot of reasons. And I am working on doing it better.