Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Learning to Delegate

cartoon of a king painting the dotted yellow line down the center of the road with a queen saying "you have to delegate some authority"
Learning to delegate is probably one of the hardest things I've had to do since moving up into administration. Honestly, though, I wish I'd learned how to do this long before - back when I was chairing a campus committee at my first job in higher ed or when I was coordinating the info lit program at my second. I was so busy trying to be polite and keep people involved that I frequently did way more than my share of the work. Delegating isn't easy, regardless, but it's actually a bit harder when you're the boss. It's basically learning to ask for help, but with the twist of a differential power dynamic. And since I'm in a bigger library now than where I was before, it's even more important.

So, how do you learn to delegate? The first step is to acknowledge that you can't do everything. I know that might seem obvious, but it's hard to actually do. Everyone has so much to do, even at small and relatively quiet libraries, never mind at big and busy ones. But we're supposed to be a team, and we all have ways to make time for things that need to be done right now.

The second step is to learn to ask without sounding like you're commanding, unless you need to. "Do you have time to take care of this today? I won't have time until tomorrow and I think it needs to happen today," is a good way to ask without commanding. "I know this isn't what you were planning to do today, but there's a looming deadline and we're all working on it, so I need you to work on this today," is a good way to be a bit more forceful without sounding dictatorial.

Third thing is that you need to be willing to do some of the crap work. Someone once told me that every job you could ever have is a bit of a crap sandwich from time to time, so you need to find the crap sandwich you like the best. I've cleaned up huge messes. I've been the one to show up at 7:15 to make sure the library is open by 7:30. I've been the one to do a bunch of writing because others didn't enjoy writing.

Finally, something that's always important but is especially important when you're delegating, is to give people the kind of support they want and AVOID MICROMANAGING. "The end goal is X, but I'm not worried about how you accomplish it," or, "The end goal is X, and so long as you don't do Y, it's all good." Also, "If you want more feedback than that, let me know, but I trust you since you've been working here a while," or, "I know you're new, but I trust your instincts, so let me know if you want more help but I'm comfortable with what you think is best." There have been times when I've had to hold people's hands a bit more, or when someone was so new that I didn't yet trust them, but those have been rare.

I'm still working to get better at this. Just last month I was looking through my very long list of projects that I want to accomplish here and realized that one of them - that has been on my list since I started here - fits nicely with a staff member's strengths and interests. I'll get better, I know, because I don't take it for granted and I keep trying to improve.

How about you? How do you delegate? Did I miss any major techniques/skills?

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