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Eleven Truths I Learn When I Delegate Responsibility

If I didn’t delegate my household chores, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do.

To delegate responsibility means to give a task to someone else. In a way, by allowing someone else to do something, you’ve doubled your efficiency. (I have five kids. This means I can do a lot more than double mine!) To delegate means more than just getting more work done. Delegating also brings people closer.

11 Truths I Learn When I Delegate Responsibility by Katharine Grubb 10 Minute Novelist

I’ve been surprised at how much I’ve learned since I’ve chosen to delegate my household tasks. Here are a few:

Trust builds relationships. When you hand off a job, and allow someone to work for you, you’re saying, “I trust you. Show me what you can do.” Around the house, the stakes are low, so it can be easy to build trust. (I don’t suggest you take this approach with an inexperienced electrician.) Ideally, a volunteer with a job to do will be grateful for that trust. I believe, that given the right situation, they will rise to the occasion and do well because of that trust. With the completion of the job, the bond between the two parties strengthens. This is how teams are build. The joy that can come out of good relationships is far more valuable than the completion of the task.

People are more important than tasks. It is easy to get so wrapped up in the job that needs to be done, that you snap at others. A bad manager will be overly critical or shame workers. Often, this communicates to them that they are unimportant or replaceable. In your delegation, stop and consider how you can communicate to your volunteers that they are valuable regardless of what they contribute. This feeling of acceptance will help insure that they will want to help again.

“If you really want to grow as an entrepreneur, you’ve got to learn to delegate.” 

—  Richard Branson

By giving someone something to do, you’re inviting them in on your mission. Of all the reasons to delegate responsibility, this is the best. “Do you want to help?” is a question that, if asked correctly, can be an invitation. The reward for saying, “Sure!” should be shared thanks, credit for a generous contribution and satisfaction for a job well done. When my children were small, I tried to use the word, “blessing” when it came to doing chores around the house. “It blesses me when you pick up your toys.” Or, “when you ask to help, it’s a huge blessing.” Or, “who wants the blessing of doing something for the house?” I wanted to communicate to them that sharing responsibility was a good thing. To this day, they do their chores cheerfully. They are still on mission with me and receive the full reward of it.

People learn by doing. All the verbal instructions in the world can’t substitute for holding something in your hands. If I’ve learned anything in my years as a homeschooling mother, it’s that learners need to see processes and instructions a variety of ways before it clicks. Some are quicker learners than others. A good teacher will be happy to demonstrate, explain and review. Agreed, it does take time to do this well. But this little investment of time can pay off big later. If you delegate responsibility, you’re taking advantage of a teachable moment.

“The inability to delegate is one of the biggest problems I see with managers at all levels.”

— Eli Broad

Few mistakes are fatal. If I am really honest, then I have to admit my tasks are not life-threatening. If they don’t get done, the worst could be is that we’re inconvenienced. I need to communicate this to my helpers. They need to know that I value them, I value their contribution, but their mistakes are rarely upsetting. If a mistake is a critical one, then I try to handle it calmly and reassuringly. I don’t want any mistake they make to taint our relationship.

Others may have a better solutions than I do. Little kills a spirit more than squashed creativity. I’d love for my helpers to come up with good, creative solutions for the tasks I give them. I always retain veto power, but by letting them have a chance to create, I’m demonstrating trust and good will. They may show me ways to change how I do things.

“No person will make a great business who wants to do it all himself or get all the credit.”

— Andrew Carnegie

 I need to separate myself from the task at hand. After good instruction and proper tools, I need my helper to feel free to be themselves in the task. I need them to be confident in the job. I believe the more freedom they feel, the better they’ll be. Even if they mess up, I want them to see the whole task as a positive experience so they’ll be willing to help me again. I believe that my separating myself from the task supports this.

Short term tasks are rarely as important as long term vision. I want my kids to participate in the household responsibilities cheerfully, but more importantly I want them to always feel like they are loved unconditionally by me. This means that I can’t risk losing my cool with them over their mistakes and negligence. I do confront it. I do correct it. But I don’t say hurtful things that might damage our relationship for the future. Short term tasks are important, but certainly not the most important. 

 “Don’t tell people how to do things, tell them what to do and let them surprise you with their results.

— George S. Patton

I have it in me to fire others. Sadly, I’ve had to pull people aside and give them a good talking to. Sometimes they haven’t responded well. Sometimes I’ve had to let others go. This is not something I enjoy. Despite my hard work to be diplomatic and gentle, I don’t like firing people, especially volunteers. But I’m very proud of the fact I can do it.

 I really do need others. I’d love to think that all of my accomplishments are mine alone. No, I’ve had lots of help. Because I chose to delegate some of my responsibilities to willing parties, I’ve come to love them more deeply. I need them not just for the tasks at hand. Others encourage me when I am down. I need to do the same for them.  We are bigger than the sum or our parts. If I played the Lone Ranger game with my life, I’d be pretty miserable.

“I don’t have a problem with delegation. I love to delegate. I am either lazy enough, or busy enough, or trusting enough, or congenial enough, that the notion leaving tasks in someone else’s lap doesn’t just sound wise to me, it sounds attractive.”

–John Ortberg

Efficiency is a poor teacher. Sure, I can always do things faster myself. But that doesn’t teach anyone anything except to get out of my way. It’s far better for me to guide my teams now, teaching them as I go. When they get the hang of it, I’ll have someone to do work for me. I’ll have gained a lot more in the long run.

I’ll need to work myself out of a job one day. This is especially true with children. By asking them to take responsibilities around the house they are gaining practice for adulthood. They are learning more and more about how to function in the world. Someday they’ll have to make their own meals and do their own laundry. That transition is hard enough, by having skills, at least it will be easier.

I want my people to go on without me. If I do all the work and never allow them the chance to work, then that makes me irreplaceable. While I do want to be irreplaceable in their hearts, I don’t want to render my survivors helpless. If they share in the responsibilities then when I’m gone, temporarily or permanently, they’ll be able to function. I want this for them. I want my purposes to last.

“The really expert riders of horses let the horse know immediately who is in control, but then guide the horse with loose reins and seldom use the spurs.”

– Sandra Day O’Connor

Everyone should share in the glory of a task. I like it when my kids beam when I say, “I couldn’t do it without them.” This glory basking is a sweet thing to share. I want their team experiences to be pleasant ones. Taking all the credit is a pretty lonely task. I’ve found it only feels good for a second. But sharing credit sows seeds of goodwill that will reap big rewards later.

Micro-managing doesn’t suit me. I feel icky when I constantly correct someone in how they’re doing something for me. I them to volunteer to do it again, so I feel like micromanaging what they do tells them that I don’t want them back. If I micro-manage, I tend to slip into neurosis and I’ve never thought this was an attractive look. Whenever the urge to micro-manage strikes, I try to step back and remind myself that the relationship I have with this person is more important than any detail.

I have five children and live in a modest home.

I have lots of other responsibilities and goals. Because I chose to delegate tasks to them, I not only have met my personal and professional goals, but I’ve also seen them grow into responsible teens and pre-teens. I’ve learned much about the value of delegating. As my children grow and move away, I’m taking these same lessons into other parts of my life and seeing similar success.

By delegating my responsibility, I have become more efficient with my to-do list.

But, in truth, my team has given me much more  than a list that says “Done.”

Katharine Grubb is an author, poet, homeschooling mother, camping enthusiast, bread-baker, and believer in working in small increments of time. She leads 10 Minute Novelists, an international Facebook group of time-crunched writers. She lives with her family in Massachusetts.