Just a Nicer Straitjacket: Why Delegation Is Not Enough

One of my favorite quotations of late has revolved around the idea of collaboration and group projects.  H.E. Luccock is attributed with the phrase “No one can whistle a symphony.  It takes an orchestra to play it.” Another way to envision this phenomenon from the manager’s chair is to realize that the wooden baton used by the orchestra conductor has little capacity to provide aural beauty.  There are simply certain dynamics in our world which require partnership.  Your organization is one of them.  Despite your depth of expertise, level of agility or aptitude, you are simply not enough.  This is humbling and freeing within the same moment.  Often, however, we see others within our team as simply additional “memory” for our own personal computer to run on.  When we hand off tasks which are bothersome, below our pay grade, or beneath our stature, we aren’t leading.  We are restraining.  We have certainly read enough articles on the gap between dumping and delegating.  We’ve been warned not to simply discard aspects of our to-do list to others without proper amounts of clarity, support and touchpoints.  What we haven’t heard often enough is that even though “delegation” is a finer tailored straitjacket, it is no less confining. Certainly clarity, support and consistent touchpoints are a gift to those you are leading, but ultimately trust and authority are the elements which liberate your team-members to lead in the ways which are unique to them. Instructing a member of the staff on what needs to be done is delegation.  Making your team awake to the story to which they can belong and helping them to notice the indigenous gifts they bring to the narrative, that’s deputizing.  If your team were able to tell you they would say they aren’t inspired by the responsibilities you delegate to them. They are motivated by the responsibilites they define based upon the authority you grant them.  There is essentially one reason we do not seek to deputize those around us:  We don’t trust them.  Sometimes we have good reason. Sometimes, for whatever reason, they are simply not trustworthy.  However, much of the time, the issue lies with us. We have somehow conned ourselves into believing that we alone have the skills, experiences and aptitude to lead. We attempt to whistle a symphony, quickly running out of breath after experiencing a monotonous, one-dimensional performance. We also deceive ourselves into asserting that no one cares for the mission of the organization as passionately as we do.  If this is truly the case then we haven’t told a compelling story and we haven’t invited the right participants. There are partners surrounding you now, no matter the size of your organization, which are anxiously awaiting the moment when you stop merely assigning them tasks and move to assigning a measure of authority to them.  Those are the partners which will charge Hell armed with water pistols if they believe in the mission.  The advantage is now you have alongside you people who know how to build an infinitely better water gun…

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