Let it go, let it grow

Nov 27, 2022

Delegating demonstrates a strong sense of organization, self-confidence, and trust in your team – while also allowing opportunities for your team to grow.

This article is about the importance of delegating. Let’s start by addressing some common misconceptions: Delegating means you can’t handle the work; it will take longer to teach someone how to perform a task rather than doing it yourself; by delegating, you risk others viewing you as less valuable after seeing that someone else can do the job as well as you, or perhaps even better. All wrong.

In actuality, delegating demonstrates a strong sense of organization, time management, self-confidence, and trust in your team. To delegate work means you are providing training and opportunities for professional growth, and not just to the person getting the assignment. If you have goals to grow in your own career, once you’ve mastered a task or skill, pass that work along to someone new and seek out your next challenge. What is something you have not been able to tackle because you’ve been bogged down with other work? Here is your chance! It could mean growth for you, and growth for your team.

You’ve likely heard this adage before: always be training your replacement. What’s more, aim for every replacement to be more advanced than their predecessor. If everyone at a firm focused on training someone to do their job (and doing it better), from the CEO down to the intern, imagine the strength and competitive power of that organization, especially over time. Staff would never be bored because they would always be facing a new challenge.

Every year I attend career fairs and speak to students about what they are looking for in a work experience. Practically without fail, they mention opportunities to learn from senior staff and/or career growth. This is exactly what delegating provides. Want to be competitive on the recruiting front? Impress the importance of delegating in your office. Without question, it’s difficult to find time for such things, and you can easily fall into the trap of thinking, “It’ll be quicker if I do it.” That may be true, for now. And sure, it doesn’t make sense to sit down with your subordinate and walk them through a process step by step when facing an imminent deadline. But they can observe, and once that deadline has passed, go back and train them so that the next time a similar assignment arises, they’ll be ready to try it firsthand, and you’ll be freed up for other tasks.

Once you’ve trained someone to tackle a new job, accept that it will not be done exactly the way you would have done it, and there likely will be some wrinkles to iron out. This is all part of the learning process. Once the trainee understands and can deliver the quality work product, encourage them to approach the assignment in the way that works best for them; they may even develop new efficiencies and improve the ultimate deliverable.

It is worth addressing the fear that by delegating, you risk becoming viewed as replaceable. We don’t like to admit it, but the fear is real, and most have likely experienced it at one time or another. Firstly, let’s be honest, you are replaceable; we are all replaceable in the jobs we perform. However, if you are in a position to delegate work, chances are, you’ve already proven your worth to your firm. The qualities that make you valuable are likely not the physical tasks that you perform, but rather your experience, perspective, and your commitment to doing quality work. Those characteristics will hold true for any new assignments you take on and you will undoubtedly prove your worth all over again. I encourage you to try to reframe this situation and instead fear the prospect of being stuck performing the same tasks you do now, forever. Now that’s scary!

This all sounds well and good, but I fully acknowledge that letting go is not easy, especially for my fellow type-A control freaks. I say that with love, and because I long struggled with the notion of delegating, but once I embraced it, and was fortunate enough to be part of a firm where I was provided sufficient staff and resources to effectively delegate, I saw a huge difference in the rate of my staff’s development, in my development and capacity for new projects, and in my mental health.

What happens when you have delegated work, but you’re still overloaded? Or you don’t have anyone to delegate to? That’s the time to approach your leadership about bringing on new staff. Everyone deserves opportunities to grow, and opportunities to take a breath (both of which benefit the firm at-large). We all know that work in the AEC industry ebbs and flows – and for some, there’s been a lot more flow than ebb lately. Finding and hiring quality staff to whom you can delegate is also easier said than done these days. All true. But keep in mind, there’s real value in continuing to try, and when you can pass something along, go for it, and then make sure you pivot to your next challenge!  

Katie Batill-Bigler is marketing director at Patel, Greene & Associates. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.