“Nathan, you’ve got to delegate” I heard this phrase over and over so many times during my time as CEO of IDEO’s OI Engine. But like so much advice, when it is framed out of context, it doesn’t resonate. Although I did learn the art of delegation, it wasn’t until I had made the decision to move on from my role that I really understood why delegation is so powerful. And it was partly an accident.
I had missed a Slack message from a colleague who urgently needed some help with a sales lead. When I saw it after emerging from a long meeting, some hours had passed. Two emotions hit me, one after the other. Firstly, a worry that she was ok, but then a curiosity as to how she was getting on without my help during the delay in getting back to her. When I went to find her, she was emerging from in a meeting with our finance director and our CTO, and she was smiling. I was so proud of her. She had figured out another way of getting what she needed — seeking advice from other colleagues and had already put together an action plan. I was not needed.
I was tempted to ask how she got on, but I didn’t want to ruin this feeling. My colleague was empowered, more motivated and seemed fine. I believed in her and knew she could handle the situation on her own. But asking her how she had got on would be like offering my approval. She didn’t need it.
Delegation isn’t just about making your life as a leader easier, it’s a crucial transformational strategy for your company. It activates and empowers those you manage and unlocks career opportunities that otherwise you may be holding back.