“When I grow up, I want to be like superman!” said nearly every small child who was ever exposed to the character. People are fascinated with the idea that, like superman, they can solve every problem and save the world. More directly, people are fascinated with the idea that they can solve all of their organization’s or company’s problems all on their own. The problem with thinking that you’re superman is quite simple. You’re not. Running a large student group, or even a small student group, is not a one person job. It requires team-work, trust, and the ability to divide work.
As an up-and-coming student leader, I was a firm believer that there was no task too big to conquer. I worked long days and many hours into the night and was convinced that I couldn’t be stopped. This belief held up for a few months until I started to burn out. My work started to suffer, as did I, and I realized that something had to change. I decided it was time to start “delegating” tasks. It didn’t take me long to realize that my “delegation” was simply giving other people tasks to do and micromanaging, which was arguably worse than my “do-it-yourself” strategy because then at least I wasn’t hurting anyone else with my attitude. As I watched my team get frustrated and the quality of the work produced continue to suffer, I realized that something was going to have to change fundamentally. I was going to have to learn to let go.
It took me some time, but I finally managed to learn what the true definition of delegation is. Delegation is NOT micromanaging your team and looking for tiny mistakes and ways that you could have done things better. Delegation is empowering team members to take on projects that need to be done and encouraging them do it to the best of their ability. When tasks are presented to my team members now, it is with the understanding that it is their project. I obviously check in to make sure there is forward progress, but my team members have the autonomy to look at the goal for the project, conceptualize an idea, and see that idea through to completion. They have the ability to make mistakes and think big without having to worry about some scary woman hovering over their shoulder. Sometimes this has backfired and I’ve found myself wishing that I had just done things myself. But 99.9% of the time, I see amazing innovative projects that I couldn’t have possibly thought of, let alone completed, by myself.
So you may be wondering, “How do I stop trying to be Superman?” If I’m honest, it isn’t easy. First and foremost, you need to trust the team that you work with and if you don’t you need to figure out why and strive to fix that immediately. Trust is the key to being able to delegate work. Without it you will fall right back into micromanaging which is bad for you and even worse for the people you work with. Checking in occasionally for progress is good; micromanaging is not. You also need to take time to establish a common vision for your project. Sit down with your team before you start work and figure out where everyone sees the team at the end of the year, project, etc. This should establish a framework for all projects being completed, and should help you and your team produce products that are not only quality, but also highly relevant. Lastly, you have to remind yourself every once in a while that even Superman didn’t save the world alone. Take time for yourself and release tension. It is not only okay, but actually highly beneficial to work with other people, and allowing yourself to share tasks will give you time to focus on the project and your personal life. Don’t believe me? Just ask Superman. Even he had the Justice League.