According to Stephen Covey, “Our greatest power lies within our circle of influence.” A leader’s circle involves people in all walks of life and situations – those you influence as a role model, those you lead or support to achieve common goals, those who inspire the best in you. Influential leaders accentuate the positive, serve mutual interests, collaborate willingly, and show appreciation.
Leading in government assumes faith in serving the public good and the ability to influence change. The public service as an institution must be built on a bedrock of trust to produce the capacity and teamwork necessary to fulfill its promise. This is no small feat when a “trust deficit” exists between citizens and their government.
The power of trust is manifest in the role of leader as delegator. The challenge is to find the right equilibrium between accountability and autonomy in working relationships. Delegation of responsibility assumes a remit of authority and resources sufficient to achieve the intended result. Conferring adequate flexibility to get the job done and committing to hold someone to account require mutual trust.
Successful leaders leave meetings with fewer tasks because they know how to delegate. They stop assigning tasks to themselves and transfer them from their plate. Their job is to help others do their job. They are the problem if everyone else goes home on time and they always work late.
Short-sighted leaders hoard work, feel indispensable, cling to authority, and sideline their team. Far-sighted leaders keep working themselves out of jobs by leveraging teammates’ talent and passion. The less they do, the more they get done. The more they do, the less useful they are.
Why don’t leaders delegate? The excuses abound – fear of losing the spotlight, easier to trust yourself than others, burned in the past, unequipped employees, organizational culture that honours results over managing for results. But even in a totalitarian regime, Tsar Nicholas I knew better: “I do not rule Russia; ten thousand clerks do.”
The tips for better delegation seem self-evident: explain outcomes and deadlines, not methods; grant authority when assigning outcomes; connect delegated responsibilities with mission and career goals; develop strengths and reliability; stay available without hovering; do only what you can do.
Delegating is about maximizing others. Strategic leaders stretch people. They delegate a little beyond their grasp or ability. Their job is to match people with projects. Leaders never shirk their responsibility or a passion for public service under the guise of delegation.