Learning to let go
od your head if you’ve ever said to yourself: “It’s so much easier to do it myself, instead of teaching someone else how to do it.” There's a certain skill set that gets you into management: you’re really good at doing your work. Managers have to be good at leading work. Often that means teaching someone how to do the work, and then letting them do it. Even if that means they may not do it correctly. Even if they fail.
I started my career by doing everything, so when I entered leadership I didn’t know how to give things up. That changed when my director, Rob Kistler, challenged me to delegate to my supervisors. There were so many things I had been doing for so long, such as: the schedule, payroll, taking calls. It was hard to give them up. Not only had I grown attached to doing those things, but I also worried about whether or not they would be done well if someone else was doing them. I needed to learn how to trust my team.
Here's the thing: Doing is about you, leading is about your team. It’s about helping them recognize their contribution and value in the organization.
Learning to trust takes time. It can be hard at first because the bottom line comes back to you. You've handed something off to somebody else, giving them the opportunity to grow and develop. What happens if they don't do it right? Or if the outcome isn’t positive? It still comes back to you. Here’s the thing: doing may be about you, but leading is about your team. It’s about helping them recognize their contribution and value in the organization.
Three things you can do now to start leading
1. Build relationships by making small connections with your team.
If you are introverted like me, this may be hard. Start small. Every morning I try to walk around to greet my team. If there's something that I know that they've been dealing with, I ask how that's going. If they’re back from vacation, I ask them about it. Even just a one-or-two-minute conversation helps them know that I care about them. They aren’t just bodies in seats that answer phones or do tasks. They are my team.
2. Support professional development.
No matter the type of work, there are opportunities for professional development. The telephone operator position, or communications specialist, is a fairly entry-level position. If somebody decides that it is a great career opportunity for them, we mentor and encourage them to be the best operator they can be. But we also recognize that it's not the career position for everyone. We help those people learn from us so they can contribute to the organization in different ways. By mentoring all of our employees, whether they see us as an entry point or not, we create relationships throughout the organization.
3. Recognize great work.
It may be tiring, but it is true: thank you notes work. I make sure people are recognized for specific things they do. We also value peer-to-peer recognition, and have created a specific recognition team in the department to facilitate that. I know how I feel when I'm recognized. I want them to know that what they're doing matters. Even if it's a little data entry project that took somebody 15 minutes to do, that was 15 minutes that helped our team.
Let your people shine
We all start somewhere. Someone gave you an opportunity. Delegating responsibility is a way to pay that forward, to give others an opportunity to grow. When Rob initially pushed me to delegate more, he told me that it wasn't because I didn't have time or didn't want to do something, but because delegating gave somebody else the opportunity for professional growth. People will rise to the occasion. They’ll surprise you with what they are capable of if you give them the opportunity.
We all start somewhere. Someone gave you an opportunity. Delegating responsibility is a way to pay that forward, to give others an opportunity to grow.
Build a team with skills that support trust
All teams look a little different. Here are three essential ingredients I look for when I hire.
- Empathy. I can teach you how to use the software, but I can't teach you how to change the tone of your voice to show compassion to your callers. I look for people who can create authentic, genuine, personal connections with patients and peers.
- Initiative. Is the person you are interviewing a follower or a leader? We look for people who see a problem and try and fix it without handing it off to the manager.
- Communication. When I delegate, one of the things that I like most is when my employees report back to me about their progress. I delegate something, they report back on it, we have conversations about it, but they move forward on their own, without having to run everything by me.
Originally published August 15, 2019