Lessons In Delegation From A Master
You cannot do it all. Nor should you. Enabling your people to take responsibility for, and ownership of, their work is an effective way to elevate performance, enhance results, and ensure engagement and satisfaction. But, the question you should be asking is, how much more empowering would it be if they didn't even realize they were working at all?
21st Century Prophet
Tom Sawyer may be "fictional" by conventional definitions, but his leadership lessons have revolutionized the practices of countless effective leaders. In fact, I called it in 10th grade American Literature class when I said Mark Twain, a 19th century author, was, in reality, a 21st century business prophet. Exhibit A:
Tom appeared on the sidewalk with a bucket of whitewash and a long-handled brush. He surveyed the fence, and all gladness left him and a deep melancholy settled down upon his spirit. Thirty yards of board fence nine feet high. Life to him seemed hollow, and existence but a burden.
Think about the expense report you need to complete. The 3:00 meeting you need to attend. The presentation on corporate values you need to deliver. Feeling hollow, burdened? Is melancholy settling on your spirit? Thought so.
Trickery - or the Sweet Spot of Leadership?
Tom's solution was to appear so absorbed, so satisfied, in his work that he could not dream of giving it up. He was whitewashing a fence, but he could just as easily been wading through RFPs or aligning marketing strategy with overall vision. He says, "Well, I don't see why I oughtn't to like it. Does a boy [or man or woman] get a chance to whitewash a fence [evaluate an employee, plan a campaign, or take a client brief] every day?"
In reality, yes. But Tom uncovers a fundamental truth: people will fall all over themselves to do your work if only you appear to enjoy so thoroughly that you cannot imagine giving it up. And the more you cling to this duty, the more they want to try it for themselves. Tom made whitewashing a fence enticing, exciting, fulfilling. If you can't do the same for expense reports or RFPs, perhaps you don't deserve the mantle of leader.
People feel empowered when they can say they "We did it ourselves." But they feel downright ecstatic when they can say, "We suckered the boss out of the cushy jobs. WIN!" Tom Sawyer 1: Lao Tzu: 0.