Goal: Get Better at Delegating

Is getting better at delegation one of your primary goals? If not, I encourage you to consider making it a priority, even if you are not are paid to be a leader.

As organizational hierarchies continue to flatten, career growth is going to depend on your ability to inspire others to act. If we’re honest, that’s what true leadership is anyhow. Getting someone to perform merely because you sign their paycheck is the more difficult and often painful way to do things. Getting others to take action because they want to—that’s the sweet spot of leadership.

Think of those in your organization who have this gift:

  1. Maybe it’s the receptionist who manages to get people to take calls even when it’s “not their job.”
  2. Or how about that guy who somehow convinced you to participate in the last community event?
  3. Or the supervisor who rallies managers, all senior to her, to donate their own and/or their staff’s time to help out with a big project?

What these individuals have in common is the ability to get others to WILLINGLY do what needs to be done. How do they do it? I’m guessing they use many of the principles of Socratic Delegation.

Based on a form of teaching created by the Greek philosopher Socrates, The Socratic Delegation Process is also backed up by a whole lot of psychology. This includes the desire to (1) be of service, (2) solve problems, and (3) control how they do things.

Here’s how it works: when you need others to do something, instead of telling them how to perform the task, clearly delineate the results you need, then ask, “What are some ways to get this done?”

  1. My guess is the previously mentioned receptionist gets co-workers to take calls by saying something like, “I need your help. Our customer Bob Jones is on Line 2 and he has some questions. His rep is Dave but he’s not here and Mr. Jones says it’s important. I don’t have the knowledge but I know you do. Can you help me figure out how to handle this?” (It becomes quicker and easier for the person she’s turned to for help to take the call himself or find someone who can.)
  2. Maybe the guy who convinces others to help with community events knows the skills and expertise of others within the organization. When he needs that expertise on the project, he turns to the right person, lays out the problem and asks, “What are some ways we could get this done?” (Before he knows what hit him, the problem-solver sees that no one else could do it as well as he can and is determinedly working on the event.)
  3. And that supervisor who somehow pulls off delegating upward? My guess is she uses another version of the technique—she calls on the wisdom of managers with more experience than she, lays out the challenges of completing the very important company project and asks them to help her brainstorm solutions. (Once they see that she does not have the manpower necessary to complete the task successfully, it’s incumbent upon them to help her find the solution, which turns out to be that they and their teams pitch in to get the job done.)

In all of the examples above, those who end up doing the tasks are not unhappy because, in each scenario, the solution was their idea. The receptionist didn’t ask the person to handle the call. The community events project manager only asked for some advice, as did the supervisor in the third scenario.

I can just hear some of your thoughts. “Isn’t that manipulation? (Gasp!) Yes and No. This is not manipulation in the negative sense of the word. It is simply tapping what people want to do anyhow: (1) help, (2) be an expert, and (3) have control over how they perform tasks.

If the person feels good about doing it, were they negatively manipulated? Of course not.

Remember the story of Tom Sawyer painting the fence? ……………….Exactly.


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