Talk Is Cheap – Don’t Use Throwaway Thanks

When you say “thank you” or other words typically used to express appreciation, be sure your behaviors back up what you’ve verbalized.

Insincere or automatic responses are no better than manipulative ones. As leaders, we know we’re supposed to thank people who help us out. But when we don’t have genuine appreciation behind the words, it shows.

It shows in ways that make you seem entitled, self-important or arrogant.

A throwaway “thanks” is just a wasted word. Think of how it makes you feel when you go above and beyond, hoping to please someone else, only to have your efforts be barely noticed. There is a huge difference between “thanks” and “this must have taken you hours! I really appreciate the time you spent.” When you truly feel appreciative, you can express something more substantial than the generic “thank you.”

It’s how you say it, too. Recently, I spent several hours helping a friend of a friend prepare for a leadership course she would be presenting. I loaned her some materials, too. After the event I called to see how it went and to reclaim my materials. She invited me to join her for coffee, a nice gesture of appreciation (or so I thought).

The coffee conversation was disappointing. I went in feeling appreciated and walked out feeling used. She was late and took three phone calls in 20 minutes while I sat there idly. In between calls, the words spoken to me were all about what she needed next. The “thank you” at the end of the abbreviated meeting (I developed a sudden need to be somewhere else) was meaningless.

Self-importance isn’t what we intend to convey when we are too busy to show gratitude. But that’s how it comes across. People who frequently cancel and reschedule meetings may not realize that this action basically says “there’s something else I want to do, and it’s more important than you.” It inadvertently signals that time with you is not appreciated or valued.

This can happen in any part of our lives. How often do our children hear “not now,” “I’m busy,” or “stop bothering me?” We don’t mean to say “I don’t appreciate time with you” or “I’m not grateful for you” or “you’re not as important to me as…” But that message may be what’s being received.

No number of “thank yous” can take away those feelings. The actions – time spent, specifics articulated, attention given – must match the words spoken.

Of course, the reason for making sure your sincere appreciation is fully conveyed must also be pure. If your intentions are solely focused on getting more out of others, then you are manipulating rather than appreciating.

The next time someone does something for you, pause and consider what it took for them to help you out. Think about what it means to you. With this reflection, you can genuinely appreciate the actions taken. Now, rather than a cursory “thank you,” you can communicate your heartfelt appreciation. You can make your time allocation, message and tone match what you feel.

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Being Effective When You Can’t be Face-to-Face

Worldwide, there are now more than one billion people who primarily work remotely. They work on the road, in home offices, and in satellite offices. In your own workplace, even in a 9-to-5 setting, think about how challenging it is to get everyone on the team together – you have to work around vacations, sick days, appointments, deadlines, projects, other meetings, and more. Add in multiple locations, business travel, different time zones, and varying work schedules… pretty soon it becomes downright difficult to find meeting times that are convenient for everyone.

Nevertheless, this is the reality facing many work teams. As companies expand their presence, perhaps even globally, the skills required for connecting multiply exponentially (even for simple tasks like setting a meeting time!). Developing work-around solutions is essential.

One of the most obvious choices is to get good at long-distance communication. Obvious, yes. Easy, no. There really isn’t any option that satisfactorily replaces face-to-face connections. The best video conference feeds still look like bad dubbing of Godzilla movies. Skype doesn’t stay in synch either and skips a few beats too often for my liking. Phone only and e-mail communication misses all the nuances of facial expressions, gestures and body language.

So how can we make the most of (not just make do with ) telephone conversations and teleconferences? Without seeing others, we have to find others ways to “read” them. We have to develop our own abilities for conveying emotional tone and for focusing our full attention without visual accountability. Here are some tips:

You cannot multi-task as well as you think you can. Working (or playing games) on your computer translates into misplaced pauses in your verbal responses. Plus chances are good that people can hear your clickety-clacking keyboard, too. Looking at paperwork or attempting to complete deskwork causes you to miss key points in the conversation, rendering you less effective than you need to be. Keeping someone waiting at your desk while you’re on the phone prohibits you from fully engaging in either interaction. No matter how you slice it, doing anything more than fully participating in the phone call is disrespectful. Just don’t do it.

Instead of multi-tasking, force yourself to focus by taking notes during the phone meeting. Prepare action items that you can summarize neatly at the end of the call. Use your notes to capture questions you can ask at the appropriate point in the call. When needed, use your notes to send an e-mail recap so everyone is “on the same page.”

Understand that others may be susceptible to the same distractions you are. After all, multi-tasking is normally acceptable and even lauded in business. To avoid catching them unawares, state your intention before asking for feedback. Rather than giving a report and then asking for questions, start by saying “I’m going to review the key points and then I’d like to hear feedback from everyone.” This will help others tune in and stay with you during the most important parts of a teleconference.

Imagine yourself talking face-to-face with the person on the other end of the phone. When you use the appropriate facial expressions and gestures, it will come through in your voice inflections and tone, too. Your liveliness will improve others’ engagement.

Listen carefully for variations in the speaker’s tone, pace, and volume. Differences can signal an emotional context. By listening for content and feelings, you will pick up on subtle cues and demonstrate your interest in the speaker. If you hear something but aren’t certain there is anything to it, just ask. It would sound like “I thought I heard some hesitance there… What am I missing that I might see face-to-face?”

Paraphrase and ask questions to check your understanding. With people multi-tasking and distracted and feeling the connection is sub-par because it’s via telephone, there is a higher risk for misunderstanding. Restate key points and ask “Did I get that right?” just to be sure you (and others) fully understand.

The quality of the technology matters. If you’re using VoIP, be sure you have a good microphone. A headset with a good microphone would be even better. If you’re using a cell phone, check for a strong connection, make sure your battery is adequately charged, and avoid background noise (or use mute when you’re not talking). If you are using a telecon or webinar service, send instructions in the planner and a reminder just before the meeting. Then log in early enough to troubleshoot and to greet callers as they enter the meeting. For video conferences, do a sound check to confirm that everyone is positioned in the room where they can be heard as well as seen.

Above all else, don’t accept that there will be less connection between the two of you. Strive to make the connection as strong as possible, as strong as it would be face-to-face. This is possible and, increasingly often in business, this is essential. The more you use the phone and other tech tools in place of face-to-face communication, the more comfortable you’ll be with it. At that point, you may become a bit lax in following these guidelines (i.e. when you are tempted to multi-task). Stick to these basics to improve your effectiveness in making every call count.

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How to Have a Candid Conversation to Defuse that Ticking Time Bomb

Have you been dodging an important conversation? The kind of conversation that may be uncomfortable, in a situation that you wish would just take care of itself? Are you dancing around a subject, being less direct, less candid than you really should be because you fear conflict or don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings?

You know what’s going to happen, right? As a result of not being candid, we can let situations like this stew and brew until they erupt and end up causing more damage than was necessary. It’s only a matter of time before one of you gets so frustrated by what’s unspoken that you will say things that shouldn’t be said instead of having a candid conversation about what needs to be talked about.

But you’d rather risk handling a ticking time bomb than put in the time and effort and emotional risk of having THAT conversation. I know. I’ve felt the same way at times. You’ll have to weigh the stakes of speaking up vs. letting this one fester. Just don’t wimp out if the stakes of doing so are greater than those few moments of discomfort required to initiate the conversation.

If you decide to go for it, to have a candid conversation, here are some tips that may make it more productive. (I didn’t say these would make it any easier, but that is a possibility… for now, let’s focus on at least getting somewhere with the conversation).

First, know what it means to be candid. It’s doesn’t mean you have the green light to be unkind or to go on the attack. In fact, to be effective at being candid, you have to put some real thought and objectivity into your preparation. Candor means “the state or quality of being frank, open, and sincere in speech or expression; free from reservation, disguise, or subterfuge; straightforward.” The synonyms for candor are matter-of-fact, frank, flat-out, plainspoken, straightforward, direct. It’s all about being truthful in a way that someone else can find constructive support in what you say to them.

To prepare yourself for candid conversations, take these seven steps before you tackle the conversation. These will boost your confidence and help you reign in your emotions. Going into the conversation with the right intent minimizes the other party’s defensiveness and means the conversation is likely to devolve into an emotionally-charged exchange.

  1. Have clarity of purpose.
  2. Identify emotional triggers.
  3. Check your assumptions.
  4. Focus on the positive outcomes.
  5. Consider the other perspective.
  6. Organize your thoughts and back up your key points with specifics and examples.
  7. Plan for “We” and “I” (not “You”) statements.

These are simple preparations. We often shortchange their importance because we are acting on our own emotion or we feel we’re too time-taxed to take these steps. But it’s charging into these candid conversations without being thoughtfully prepared that becomes a time drain. Not only does the conversation itself take longer, but we put obstacles and hurt feelings in our relationships that may take a long time to heal. It is worth the time to think and prepare before you speak candidly.

So now you’re ready for the conversation… Be sure to open it up with a neutral statement, one that doesn’t accuse or blame. Here are some ideas for good openings:

  • “I’d like to discuss ______. And I’d like to start by understanding your point of view.”
  • “I think we have different perceptions about _______. Tell me your thoughts.”
  • “I have something I’d like to discuss with you that I think will help us work together more efficiently.”
  • “Let’s talk about what just happened.”

You’ll notice that these conversations start by being inclusive and open. You’ll be operating with an assumption that there really are two sides to every story. Rather than entering into the conversation to force your own agenda, you are seeking first to understand. To do that throughout the conversation, you’ll want to inquire with an open mind. Then you should acknowledge the other party’s position and that you’ve heard and understood what they had to say. Don’t race through these first two steps – they are extremely important because we all just want to be heard and understood.

Once you’ve truly heard and understood, you can advocate your position without attacking the other party’s position. This isn’t about a point-for-point competition. In fact, there may be aspects of the situation where you are both right. So consider collaborating to build a mutually agreeable solution. If the conversation does become adversarial, go back to one of the opening statements and follow this process through again and again.

Maintain your own objectivity throughout. If emotions get out of control, call a time out and refocus on your preparation steps. Remind yourself that you want a productive outcome and a preserved relationship more than you want to have your emotional release. Tirades, dressings down, woe-is-me whining, and tears won’t get you want you really want from this conversation. Keep yourself in check.

Here’s a list of cautions. You’ll know you’re going too far outside the boundaries and that the conversation is becoming unproductive if:

  • You don’t maintain objectivity.
  • You resort to blaming or shaming.
  • You use superlatives (always, never).
  • You do not offer specifics & examples.
  • You beat around the bush.
  • You minimize and apologize.
  • You “protect” someone from the truth.
  • Your message is not clear.

You can do this. You have the time and you have the spine. All you need to do is prepare yourself and proceed.

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Boost Your Personal Effectiveness – Part 2

In last week’s CONNECT2Lead Blog post, we started our discussion about 10 habits that can increase your personal effectiveness. We covered five of those habits in that post and will pick up where we left off here, to give you five additional habits you can work on to boost your personal effectiveness.

It bears repeating that personal effectiveness is something you can learn and do. It’s not an inborn trait. To be more effective doesn’t require you to be more intelligent, more educated, more attractive, more wealthy, more lucky or more experienced. It requires only your willingness to work on changing your habits. You can tackle just one habit at a time for incremental improvements in your effectiveness.

Effectiveness is defined simply as your ability to get things done. It’s an important skill, being effective, since it is what people expect from us in the workplace and at home. People who can get things done are people we trust and admire. You can be one of those people.

Here are the five remaining habits to work on if you’d like to improve your personal effectiveness.

Keep yourself under control

Nobody gives any degree of control to the people who can’t seem to control themselves. Emotional outbursts signal a lack of self-control. When you lose self-control, it is frightening to others and they do not view you as someone they can trust. You can’t be effective if you aren’t trusted.

Self-control is the ability to limit your expression to that which is appropriate to the person, time & place. This is proactive, but pure feelings can be reactive if not tempered with reason. This includes controlling what you express to yourself. Being controlled by an emotion is no excuse for bad behaviors. You have to develop habits for keeping emotions in check so that you can be more effective.

In any situation, when you want to be effective, here’s the question you need to ask yourself: Do I want to be emotional or do I want to be effective? The two seldom go hand-in-hand.

Be self-aware

Self-awareness means that you understand yourself and your impact on others.

To become self-aware, you have to be willing to be honest with yourself. That requires introspection and reflection about your strengths and your weaknesses, too. As you’re being honest with yourself, you’ll notice that you may make excuses about your weaknesses. Is that really necessary? How about accepting them instead and even working on the ones that will make you more effective? Ask yourself, candidly, “what is holding me back?” When you get clarity on how you are perceived by others and why, you will have an awareness that can set you up for success.

People who never develop this level of self-awareness typically struggle throughout their entire lives with the same challenges. They externalize the blame and act as if they are helpless. Others observe this and lose respect. They may even try to tell the person who lacks this self-awareness, only to be dismissed or denied in what they’ve offered. To be more effective, listen to what others are trying to tell you and be more honest with yourself.

Be courageous

We all have fears – fear of failure, fear of success, fear of the unknown. For many people, the fears they have are so strong that they deny themselves opportunities for professional or personal growth.

Being courageous does not mean having no fear. Instead, being courageous means taking action despite that fear.

So when it comes to your career or to making decisions or to moving outside your comfort zone… you should know that your fears are no different than anyone else’s. But you can set yourself apart from everyone else by courageously acting even though you are afraid.

Make a PACT with yourself to do these four things – Pinpoint what it is you need to do, take the Action needed, live with any Consequences and never regret that you acted bravely, and Track your actions and the consequences so you can learn and grow from them. This is an effective strategy for achieving your goals and for demonstrating courage.

Accept criticism graciously

Criticism hurts. Our automatic response is pain. A single word of criticism can drum up a lifetime of similar criticism, including self-criticism. So to avoid this pain, we avoid asking for and hearing criticism.

For some people, the avoidance of criticism is to be overly defensive, to try and justify or minimize the situation you are being criticized for. For others, the criticism is not only accepted but magnified with a lot of self-condemnation being added to the actual criticism. And some people do both – minimizing in public and maximizing alone.

Another common response is to shift blame or externalize all criticism. By denying responsibility to deflect the criticism we think we make ourselves look better. Actually, though, in business we are viewed as having limited potential to lead if we cannot accept responsibility. What you are saying when you shift blame is that you were not in control of the situation… and this shows limitations to your effectiveness.

To deal more effectively with criticism and to learn and grow from it, separate out the constructive points from the destructive ones. Constructive criticism comes from people who want you to grow and develop. It has a purpose and it is not a personal attack. You can most easily identify constructive criticism because it contains some specific examples or information. If you don’t hear this, ask for it – not defensively but with the intent of understanding. Saying “I’d like to understand your perspective better. What examples can you share with me?” will invite more information. Saying “What are you talking about? I always try hard to do that!” won’t get you anything more concrete to work with.

This is hard to do. But people will respect this approach and you will be more effective as a result of it.

Be a team player

Last, but certainly not least, is the need to be a team player if you want to become more effective. No one can do it all alone. Every member of every group has something to contribute. Tap into the unique ideas and experiences and talents each person has to offer. Build alliances. Share for the common good.

Don’t try to justify going it alone. Trying to be a hero or to be a solo act just isn’t sustainable. You can only get so far on your own. So seek team members you can count on. Bring others along with you. Your effectiveness will increase exponentially when you rely on others.

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Boost Your Personal Effectiveness – Part 1

I’m not talking in this post about intelligence, imagination, experience, past achievement, hard work, wealth, popularity or good luck. Those are all nice to have. But none of them – not even all of them – ensures that you will be effective in what you set out to do. Effectiveness is a wholly separate topic, one that doesn’t get much attention. That’s why we over-rely on all those other attributes as we strive to become more effective. When we fail or if we don’t feel endowed with those qualities, we give up.

But learning to be effective isn’t all that difficult. Like anything, it requires awareness, effort and time to form some new habits. Since this is a big topic, one that I feel is pretty important, we’ll break it down into two blog posts.

Here’s what it means to be effective. Simply put, personal effectiveness is the ability to get things done. Effectiveness is not efficiency – it’s about doing things well rather than doing things fast. Effectiveness is what raises your personal levels of performance, achievement and satisfaction. Effectiveness is a skill, not a personality trait. Therefore, it can be learned.

To be more effective, you must master certain habits and behaviors. There are 10 key habits to start with. In this post, we’ll cover the first five. To maximize your personal effectiveness, you will want to work on all 10 over time. But working on just one in the short-term will increase your effectiveness incrementally. Pick one habit that you feel comfortable working on and start there.

Be wise in evaluating the choices you make

A decision is a judgment. It’s a choice between alternatives. Most choices are not about absolutes like right vs. wrong. Usually, there are just different courses of action to consider.

Starting with opinions instead of starting with facts gives you a chance to gauge how much emotion you are dealing with. If you ask for others’ initial feelings about a matter, you’ll liberate members of your team (family, social circle) to say what they are thinking rather than feeling that the facts you’ve outlined are a predetermined course of action.

As you listen to opinions, sort through what is relevant to the choice you must make. Filter carefully so you don’t get caught up in emotions, rhetoric, or group think. Ask questions to be sure a choice is needed – maybe two solutions could co-exist or perhaps everyone could make their own choices in this matter. Making minor adjustments is easier than making wholesale changes… so consider the simple first.

Once you have made your choice, communicate it clearly and be firm about seeing it through. Never be “wishy-washy” because that will damage your credibility. But that doesn’t mean being rigid. If new information emerges or the situation changes, it will be time for a new decision. If you do change course, acknowledge that you were fully committed to the first choice and that you were wrong. Explain what new information has caused you to shift.

Be credible in the way you speak and act

Explain your decisions in a logical manner. Use facts, not emotions, as the basis for your decision. Even if you are making people-based decisions and must take into account the impact on people, weight the logical implications, too. Be comfortable enough with your own decision to take and answer questions about it.

Avoid words like maybe, sort of, I think, I wonder… Speak decisively to inspire confidence.

Don’t dilute the effectiveness of your decisions by trying to please all the people all the time. Know that you will not be able to accomplish this and handle it correctly if you are trying to appease everyone with your decision.

Don’t ignore the risks. Understand them and face them right away. Acknowledge them openly so others can see how you’ve looked at the whole situation.

Less is more – keep your messages simple and straightforward. Don’t hide information, but don’t feel like you have to go into great detail unless others ask.

Show foresight

Being effective and credible puts you in a position where others will seek your ideas and input. You can build on your effectiveness by becoming adept in predicting likely outcomes and troubleshooting to avoid likely problems.

Don’t ignore problems or dissension that bubbles up around you. Instead, when everything seems to be going well, have the foresight to ask about potential threats and to continually look for new and better ways to do things. Being complacent may mean that you’ll get blindsided when it’s too late to adjust.

Showing foresight doesn’t require a crystal ball. It does require staying engaged with others, asking questions and listening to their input. Value and seek others’ opinions as often as possible.

Deal with problems confidently

There will be problems in your life and in your workplace. Falling apart isn’t an effective way of dealing with those problems.

To deal more effectively with the problems you encounter, try this. Label your problems and deal with them in a

dispassionate manner. Focus first on solutions and later, privately, on emotions. Simply taking control will make you more effective. Here are five ways you can compartmentalize problems and deal with them:

Factual Problems have an answer that is right or wrong. A little research can usually get these problems resolved very quickly. Don’t stew and brew about these. They aren’t worth the time.

Operational Problems pertain to systems, work practices, processes or technology. Problems here, especially recurring ones, can run really deep. It may take a long time to analyze this type of problem and correct each layer. Don’t tackle these big problems alone. Involve the people who are closest to the work and trust them with a fix.

Tactical Problems are the ones that may get in the way of attaining your goals. These are the nuisance problems, the little fires you put out in your day-to-day work. They steal your time and take your focus away from what really matters. The best way to handle these problems is proactively. You must anticipate these problems and solve them early on. Don’t let these problems become your excuse for procrastinating on what’s truly important.

Strategic Problems are related to the organization’s broadest goals. You put the business or family at risk if you do not provide quick, complete and adequate solutions. To avoid these problems, work on the habit above called “Show Foresight” so you troubleshoot and anticipate problems.

People Problems are the hardest to deal with because we don’t want to get involved in anything messy. In business, the majority of problems that front-line managers deal with are people-related. This includes decisions related to hiring, firing, moving, restructuring, promoting, motivating, coaching, etc. Every one of these decisions has an impact on a person and often on an entire team. Stalling on solutions to people problems causes far more problems than directly dealing with them as they arise.

Many leaders lose their followers because they do not demonstrate confidence in solving problems. The confidence comes from being able to gauge the urgency and respond appropriately and from understanding the need to stabilize a situation before diagnosing it.

Handle your mistakes honorably

In order to be effective, you must be willing to make a mistake.

Sometimes, you have to act before you’re certain of the outcome. Some people avoid taking any action at all because they’re afraid of what will happen if they fail or make a mistake. Ultimately, they’re afraid of what people will say or think about us. It’s impossible to be effective if you simply stay in one place.

What we forget, especially in the glaring spotlight that a mistake feels like is that everyone makes mistakes and that it’s okay to make mistakes. Mistakes are an opportunity to learn. You will grow and become more effective if you occasionally make mistakes.

When you make a mistake, what matters most is how you handle it. Don’t blame others. Don’t deny that a mistake has been made. Don’t be defensive. Be accountable for it and describe what you’ve learned and will do differently the next time. People admire this response and will respect you when you own your own mistakes.

There are five more habits to form as you work on your personal effectiveness. We’ll cover those in next week’s CONNECT2Lead! Blog post.

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To Delegate Or Not To Delegate: That Is The Question.

If you’re following this series, you’ve already read about the 5 lame excuses managers give for not delegating and the one real reason so many managers do the work themselves. You’ve also read the 8 Essentials of Effective Delegating.

Like most managers who want to delegate more to develop their direct reports, you’re probably struggling still with one more concern. You’re right to hold back on delegating if you don’t know how to work this out. It’s a legitimate concern. Fortunately, it’s also a concern we can readily address with a simple too.

That legitimate concern is this: Can we risk it? 

After all, there is some risk — real or perceived — in every act of delegation. You may be getting the work done. Despite the lost development opportunities if you continue doing the work yourself, you just aren’t sure the risk of handing it over to someone else is worth it.

When managers feel this way, it becomes the fallback position. This uncertainty can override all other thoughts about delegating.

Here’s a replacement tool. It’s a way to include risk assessment in your decisions about delegating. It’s also a tool to challenge your fallback position and get you delegating more often.

It works like this. First, for the task at hand, determine if it the stakes are high or low. High Stakes (HS) means there truly is something risky about delegating this work. You’ll determine what that means to you. Consider how quickly the work must be done, who the audience or end user is for the work, what the implications of an error would be, and how costly a mistake would be. Low Stakes (LS) means there is time, latitude and tolerance within this one task for potential error and rework.

Second, you’ll also want to consider the individual you’re considering for the delegated work. Specific to this task, you’ll determine how ready the delegate is. In the graphic below, DR stands for “Delegate Ready” which means the individual is already able to take on more work and capable of tackling this kind of work, too. It does not mean the individual is already an expert in this type of work — remember our aim is to delegate for development, so this is not an exercise in matching people with work they have already mastered.

The alternate choice is DNR, a Delegate who is Not Ready. This designation means the delegate is not currently able to take on additional work ADN you cannot shift work to free up time for this delegate to take on different work. It could also mean this delegate is not capable of learning or growing at this time due to other assignments or a proven lack of interest or competency. Be careful not to hastily bucket every person in every situation as delegates who are not ready — that’s not usually accurate and, if it is, you are not effective as a manager when it comes to hiring, onboarding, training, and performance managing your direct reports.

When you put these two considerations together, you get just four scenarios.


The lower right box is Low Stakes and a delegate who is ready (DR). In this situation, why wouldn’t you delegate? If you’re not delegating to this person in this situation, then you are going to be thought of as a control freak or someone who is unable/unwilling to trust others.

The lower left box is still Low Stakes but, in this case, the delegate is not ready (DNR). This is the perfect situation to provide learning and development. The stakes are low, so why not seize the opportunity to gradually stretch a direct report. You’ll be working to shift this individual into the DR/LS box for the task.

The upper left box represents times when the stakes are high (HS) and the delegate is not ready (DNR). It would be irresponsible for you to delegate at a time like this. That shouldn’t, however, be a permanent situation. Start now (and start small if necessary) to get a delegate ready for this task in the future.

The upper right box is the trickiest one. Many managers keep this work just because the stakes are high. Here’s the problem: if you hoard this work, it precludes others’ development. If people are ready for this work, they’ve earned the right to do it. How can you give them a chance to grow if they aren’t given the work that helps them prove themselves?

Take some time to evaluate your current tasks using this tool. Delegate where the stakes are low so you get better at delegating using those 8 Essentials for Effective Delegation. Next, push yourself to get more delegates more ready for more tasks. Then, go for it. Trust your ready delegates even when the stakes are high.

If that still seems too risky, consider this. The biggest risks of all come from not developing people and trying to do much yourself.

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The 8 Essentials of Effective Delegation

When supervisors fail to delegate work and give others an opportunity develop, they limit themselves and others.

Managers who saddle themselves with technician work and recurring tasks leave no time to develop for personal development of higher level strategic skills. Further, the time they spend on work that could be delegated is time that isn’t spent on coaching, mentoring, training or supporting the development of their direct reports.

Of course, a manager’s failure to delegate also deprives direct reports of growth opportunities. This impairs long-term growth of team capacity and reduces employee satisfaction and engagement.

Delegating is not something you do TO people. It’s meant to be something you do FOR people. That’s why shifting your paradigm so you will delegate for development is so important.

Recently, we’ve been posting about why managers don’t delegate. We covered the 5 lame excuses managers offer most often and then we surfaced the real reason managers aren’t delegating more work more effectively.

The next logical step is to talk about HOW to delegate effectively. Including these 8 essential steps will ensure effective delegation that helps everyone develop.

1. Select a delegate for the assignment. Select based on delegate readiness, interest and stretch-ability. Here are six questions you can ask to narrow down your choices. You can also return for our next CONNECT2Lead post about how to select the right delegate for the task(s) you will be delegating.

2. Grant your delegate sufficient authority. Micro-management is a symptom of poor delegating. Those behaviors also suggest that you don’t trust the person you’ve delegated a task to. If you didn’t delegate authority and autonomy along with the task, you didn’t really delegate at all.

3. Set clear and specific goals along with any non-negotiable protocols for how the work is to be done. You dignify people when you give them a clear framework without prescribing or monitoring every single action. For example, let your delegate know the goal, the specific timeline and deadlines, when you’ll check in and what’s expected when you do, plus any work practices that are absolutely fixed (because, for example, they affect handoffs to other departments). Then step back and allow your delegate to modify (and improve!) processes, to try alternate ways of doing things (and to learn while doing so!).

4. Enable your delegate to achieve the goals. Be fair and reasonable. You can’t expect people to accomplish goals if they are lacking time, budget or access needed to get the job done.

5. Be a resource to support your delegate. Without hovering, be available. Check in occasionally and make sure your delegate knows it is safe and expected to bring questions and updates to you. Handing off a task doesn’t mean abandoning your delegate.

6. Assess your delegate’s performance. This is particularly important the third or fourth time the delegate is independently completing a recurring task. Allowing for a learning curve means you are more involved on the front end as a mentor and teacher. As you gradually pull back, you will still check in and give feedback. Make it constructive and focused on continual development.

7. Give recognition for contributions made. Recognize effort to learn and grow. Acknowledge the risk taken to tackle a new task. Celebrate success, including the little wins along the way that represent learning and growth. Encourage your delegate often so the new assignment won’t feel like a thankless dump of undesirable tasks.

8. Maintain responsibility for outcomes. You don’t get to check out. As the manager, you are the one who is accountable for outcomes. Harry S. Truman’s “the buck stops here” philosophy applies. If your delegate is not delivering on the desired outcomes, you bear some of that responsibility. Go back through steps 1-7 above to improve the outcomes.

Once you’ve delegated work, it’s a bad idea to take it back. Planning for the delegation, effectively staging it and supporting your delegates will prevent you from ping-ponging the work in a way that causes others to feel your handoffs are merely self-serving.

Next week in the CONNECT2Lead Blog: a useful tool that will help you determine when it’s appropriate to delegate and when it’s not.

CONNECT 2 Lead graphic smalThe CONNECT2Lead Blog and training programs are products of People First Productivity Solutions. We build organizational strength by putting people first. If you’d like to read more in the Delegating for Development Series for Leaders, subscribe to the CONNECT2Lead Blog RSS Feed.


The Real Reason Managers Don’t Delegate Effectively

In last week’s CONNECT2Lead Blog post we reviewed 5 Lames Excuses for Not Delegating.

Those are five of the justifications I hear most often from supervisors who choose not to delegate and get work done through others. However, as a coach and trainer, I’m convinced those five rationalizations aren’t the primary reason for a lack of effective delegation.

Sure, those five excuses may be convenient and may even have some elements of truth. Underlying all five of them, though, is this overarching truth:

Most supervisors, managers and senior leaders do not know how to delegate effectively.

Effective delegation requires more than making work assignments. It isn’t done solely for the purpose of offloading menial tasks. Effective delegation isn’t about picking and choosing based on current capabilities and workload.

Effective delegation starts with an intention to develop people.

If you’re delegating for any other reason, then the 5 lame excuses for not delegating will all seem valid. As a result, you and your team will be no more capable next year than you are today. You’ll keep doing the work you’re doing, never freeing up enough time to develop yourself and do more managerial and strategic work. Your direct reports will continue doing the same work they already do, perhaps showing some modicum of improvement but, nonetheless, pigeon-holed.

By contrast, when managers delegate for development entire teams develop. The team’s leader stretches to learn and do new things. Additionally, having delegated some of his or her work, the team’s leader also has more time to coach and support members of the team as they stretch, learn and grow, too. As capacity expands, so does learning agility. Everyone becomes more capable, more nimble and more equipped to tackle new challenges. These are strong teams.

In next week’s post, we’ll describe the 8 steps for delegating effectively so any team leader can build a stronger team. Before we get to that, it’s imperative for anyone who wants to delegate effectively to first develop a new paradigm for delegating for development.

When your intention is to delegate for development, you’ll make different decisions about what to delegate, who to delegate to, and how you’ll handoff the delegated work. As with any shift, this may seem unnatural at first. Practice will make it easier.

When it comes to routine delegating, most people ask the wrong questions (hence the 5 lame excuses for not delegating). Most managers, when faced with new tasks or when considering whether or not to delegate tasks, will go through a mental exercise that includes questions like these:

– Do I really want to take the time to explain this to someone else? Or would if just be faster to do it myself?

– Are they too busy? Will they be upset with me if I give them more work?

– Since I like doing this work, won’t I miss it if I give it up?

– If I’m not the one they’re counting on to do this work, will I lose status or become less necessary here?

– Can anyone else really do this as well as I can? Don’t I owe it to the company to do this since I’m the expert?

These questions are all limiting. They are focused more on the present than on the future, more on the manager than on the team, more on the status quo than the possibilities.

To delegate for development, a manager must make a shift and ask different questions about the tasks he or she routinely does. Managers who delegate for development conduct a quarterly exercise that pushes them to continually delegate more work. The exercise only takes about an hour. It starts by listing all your routine tasks. Then, for each item on that list, you’ll ask yourself these questions (to replace the set of questions above):

– Who can do this today?

– Who needs to learn how to do this?

– Who will benefit from practicing this?

– Who can offer new ideas about this?

– Who will do this when I’m not here?

– Who is interested in doing this?

– Who is doing work that no longer challenges them?

In addition to reviewing your list of routine tasks and asking these questions, make it a regular practice to ask these questions with any new projects or tasks. You don’t have to master the work before you delegate the work. Give others the opportunity to become subject matter experts and pride of ownership.

Bonus for you, the manager — even conducting this exercise and doing this work of delegating for development is beneficial. By virtue of delegating in this way, you are already developing new and higher level managerial skills.

Check back next week to get the eight essentials for effective delegation here in the CONNECT2Lead Blog.

CONNECT 2 Lead graphic smalThe CONNECT2Lead Blog and training programs are products of People First Productivity Solutions. We build organizational strength by putting people first. If you’d like to read more in the Delegating for Development Series for Leaders, subscribe to the CONNECT2Lead Blog RSS Feed.


5 Lame Excuses for Not Delegating

The job of a manager is to get work done through others.

Why, then, do so many managers do so much of the work on their own? Why don’t more managers delegate more work to more people?

There may be some legitimate reasons for handling certain tasks that would, otherwise, be delegated. For example, a team with many new people may require a manager to temporarily absorb some of the workload.

In this post, I’m not talking about those exceptions. I’m talking about managers who aren’t delegating and should be and could be. Here are five of the lamest excuses I hear for not delegating:

1. I don’t have the time to delegate. It’s faster to do the work myself.

2. I know they’re busy, and I’d feel bad about giving them more work.

3. I like doing this work myself.

4. This is what I’ve always done. I’m known and valued for doing this work.

5. I don’t think anyone else can do the job as well as I can.

These 5 excuses for not delegating all have three things in common. They are ego-driven, self-limiting and unfair to this manager’s direct reports.

Sure, any one of this may also be accurate. But, if so, that’s a problem. No manager should value his or her time more than the opportunity to invest that time in developing an employee. No manager should protect people from a challenge that will enable them to grow. No manager should hoard his or her work for pleasure or job protection — doing so deprives others of learning opportunities AND jeopardizes the company’s future effectiveness (think “hit by a bus” scenarios). Finally, no manager should expect perfection without giving people a chance to try, fail, learn and improve.

No manager should hunker down and keep doing work he or she has already mastered. There is always new work, higher level and more strategic work, people developing work, team building work and continual improvement work managers should focus on instead.

If you are using any one of these lame excuses for not delegating, stay tuned. We’ll be talking about why and how and to whom you should be delegating more work to more often. CONNECT2Lead appears here every Monday morning.


CONNECT 2 Lead graphic smalThe CONNECT2Lead Blog and training programs are products of People First Productivity Solutions. We build organizational strength by putting people first. If you’d like to read more in the It’s Your Voice: Use It Or Lose It Series for Leaders, subscribe to the CONNECT2Lead Blog RSS Feed.

3 Reasons People Don’t Speak Up

Communication is a two-way street.

Leaders: That means you don’t get to do all the talking.

If leaders were listening and asking for input more often, all kinds of problems could be avoided. People on the front line recognize problems long before they bubble up to managers and senior leaders. [Read more…]