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Fall 2021 Edition

Living More Effectively

How Well Do You Delegate And Inspire Others?

By Leonard Felder, PhD

Have you ever been up to your eyeballs in work or family responsibilities and then, suddenly, one more additional task or unexpected dilemma makes you feel like exploding?

As a psychologist, I’ve found that one of the toughest things for most highly-competent people is to delegate tasks or ask for help. Having someone you can trust to lighten your daily load could reduce your stress levels, improve your physical health, and free up your time and energy to truly focus on the tasks you enjoy much more. But here are some of the key reasons why many of us feel hesitant or unable to delegate to others:

  • You might be afraid that no one will do the task with the same level of commitment and care that you would bring to it.
  • You have been burned before when you delegated to others and they simply didn’t do a good job.
  • You have a sense of pride or expertise that would be threatened if you let someone with less experience do what you have been trained to do.
  • You’re so busy right now you can’t find the time or energy to teach someone else how to do what might be quicker if you just did it yourself.

The following exemplifies some of these key reasons. One of my counseling clients is Elaine, a very smart and highly-competent, mid-level manager who also has an aging parent requiring a lot of attention. Elaine told me, “Of course, I know I’m overloaded and I should probably delegate more to my administrative assistant at work and also to my younger sister who doesn’t lift a finger to help out with my aging parent. But to be honest, it’s such a pain to have to teach them, coax them, watch them, correct them, and still not get a final result that matches what I can do on my own—even though I end up exhausted from the long hours.”

Feeling Overcooked and Frustrated

Like Elaine, and other highly-competent people like her, if you are not comfortable asking for help or are not very effective in delegating work to others, you probably will find yourself with one or more of the following outcomes:

  • A frequent sense of overwhelm that no matter how much you do each day, you still have a big pile of unfinished projects and tasks that you can’t find time to address.
  • Occasional or recurring physical symptoms such as back pain, neck pain, digestive problems, sleep problems, or feelings of anxiety or depression because of the quantity of tasks piled up on your “To Do” list day after day.
  • You might find yourself feeling impatient or resentful toward your loved ones, co-workers, clients, or customers because they don’t seem to understand how much pressure you’re under and they have the nerve to ask you for “one more thing.”
  • You probably have felt a nostalgic longing for the quiet moments when you used to have time for relaxation, fun, or pleasant escapes from the pressures you are feeling currently.

How to Improve Your Success at Delegating and Inspiring Others

For 25 years, I’ve been testing out various ways to help smart and responsible men and women to reduce their stress and to be more successful at resolving the pressures they have at work or at home. Here are a few highly-effective ways to lighten your load and increase your productivity and health by learning to delegate to others in a far more creative way than most people do it. All it takes is four quick steps that you can learn quite easily.

STEP ONE. Select a task that you absolutely don’t want to delegate and that you want to do in your own particular way.

Delegating to others doesn’t mean giving away the things that clearly need your personal touch or your intense caring for getting things done correctly. In fact, the first step is to make sure that you reserve the one or two tasks that you strongly know must not be delegated, because only you have the depth of caring and experience to do them right.

For example, Elaine knew she didn’t want to delegate the enjoyable client lunches or the most creative parts of her job. Nor did she want anyone else taking her aging parent to extremely important doctor’s appointments where crucial information and decisions were being discussed. So when I told her about this first step of “reserving for yourself the tasks you truly don’t want anyone else taking away from you,” you could see a sense of relief on her face. She admitted, “I’ll be much more comfortable with the whole issue of delegating to others if I know up front that I can hold onto the one or two tasks that are most meaningful and important to me.”

STEP TWO. Select a second task that you probably could teach someone to do almost as well as you do it, but it would free up your time and energy for more satisfying activities.

If you are a creative or intuitive person who doesn’t like doing such tasks as insurance forms, filing, computer data entry, or other detail-oriented tasks, find someone who does enjoy these careful, detailed activities. Whether it’s something time-consuming at work or something stressful in your personal life, make sure you select someone who cares about doing a careful job on this type of task, who makes good decisions, and who tends to be reliable at following through without your breathing down his or her neck. Then treat this person as a valued and important part of your life whose teamwork and insights are definitely appreciated by you. Spend an hour a month with this person, having a conversation as supportive teammates in which you cooperatively divide up the tasks that you’ve been doing (resentfully) on your own. Then let this person know that you are sincerely grateful for how he or she is good at specific tasks.

As Elaine discovered, “My sister is lousy at being patient or comforting with our aging parent, but she’s good at filling out forms, shopping for bargains, and making phone calls. So when we began to have a monthly conversation where we could brainstorm as cooperative teammates who are dividing up the list of tasks, I told her honestly that I truly appreciate her ability to do the insurance reimbursement forms, to help out with groceries and prescription pick-ups, and to do the careful research for finding certain medical devices that we’ve had to buy for our aging parent. Boosting up my sister and then letting her have these specific tasks has freed me up to do the things I prefer doing.”

STEP THREE. Pick a third task that you need help with, providing it will be done a certain way, and then let that designated person(s) know up front that you care deeply about doing this task in an exact way and that you will welcome any questions or clarifications to make sure it doesn’t go astray.

One of the breakthroughs for many people reluctant to delegate is that in this third type of task, you now have complete permission to be honest and clear that you want one or two tasks done in an exact way, and that you will make yourself available if the delegate has any questions or problems. This clarifies from the start a sense that the delegate should come to you with any detours or changes, rather than having that person assume incorrectly that you want them to stray from the original plan without clearing it with you first. The other person will probably feel inspired and appreciated that you are trusting them with so much honesty and responsibility – especially if you let this person know that there’s something specific about their particular skills and caring which allows you to entrust an intricate task or project to them that you wouldn’t entrust to anyone else.

In Elaine’s high-pressure job, she began to have a half hour, one-on-one session each week with her administrative assistant to go over a few complicated projects and to brainstorm the ways to keep each part of the assignment up to a high level of quality. Elaine found, “My assistant has become more motivated and far more competent as a result of these weekly check-in conversations. She and I are finally in sync, rather being silent or vague on what’s expected and then getting on each other’s nerves.”

STEP FOUR. Enjoy the fact that you will have lightened your load by 20-60% by your usage of these various delegation steps.

Not only will you be preventing lots of wasted time spent on miscommunications because you will begin by clearly communicating your expectations to people and inspiring them to do their best work, but you will also be freeing up time and energy for the other parts of your life that have been neglected recently – your relationships, your friendships, your health, your spiritual life, and your sense of flow and ease – which was up-ended by the huge pile of unfinished projects that were overloading your thoughts.

Leonard Felder, PhD is a licensed psychologist and bestselling author whose 12 books have sold over 1 million copies. He’s also appeared on over 200 radio and television programs, including Oprah, The Today Show, CNN, National Public Radio, Canada AM, and BBC London.


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Disclaimer: This newsletter is not intended to provide medical advice on personal wellness matters. Please consult your physician for medical advice.