If you’ve ever watched the show “Parks and Recreation,” you know and love the main character Leslie Knope, the most dedicated and optimistic local government official in the history of pop culture. To call Leslie an overachiever is a vast understatement: in the show’s fourth season, Leslie is working full time in her dream job as Deputy Director of the Parks and Recreation Department while also running for City Council in her small Indiana town. In standard Leslie Knope fashion, she remains committed to doing everything herself, and is unwilling to ask for help. This all comes to a head in the episode “Sweet Sixteen,” when Leslie’s do-it-all attitude results in first forgetting, and then botching, a birthday celebration for her colleague Jerry, before falling asleep on the birthday boy in the middle of the party.
Throughout this episode, Leslie refuses to delegate even the most basic of tasks, and turns down multiple offers of help from her team. She exhibits a trait common to many high performers and leaders in the workplace: stubbornness and unwillingness to cede control over and responsibilities under her purview.
Learning to delegate is a critical skill for anyone who seeks to increase professional responsibility and authority, or serve in any sort of management or leadership position. While it is not an easy skill to master, I do have some tips for making it a less painful and more productive transition for everyone involved.
1) Think through what, exactly, needs to be delegated. Depending on the nature of the task it may be that a specific process needs to be followed to a tee, or it may be that as long as a particular outcome is achieved, the steps to get there are not important. Or the appropriate path could fall anywhere in the middle. Make sure to set and communicate appropriate expectations about what is being delegated.
2) Transition responsibility of the task gradually. Rather than simply passing the baton and leaving the field, perform the task together with your successor a few times, with you taking a slightly reduced role each time, until you are just an observer. Establish yourself as a mentor and helpful resource until your successor is comfortable with the new responsibilities.
3) Remember that just because you aren’t directly responsible for performing a particular task or set of tasks doesn’t mean you are ceding all control. On the contrary, delegating can be an opportunity to codify your experience and expertise into institutional knowledge from which all successors will benefit. Write down the steps you undertook, what lessons you learned, and the challenges you overcame during your time performing the task in a way that will be useful to others, so there is no need to reinvent the wheel when a new person takes over in the future.
Each of these tips requires a change in perspective – to see delegating not as giving up control or territory, but as a way to move onward and upwards, and to allow others to grow and learn, all for the good of the team. Eventually Leslie Knope did learn her lesson, and began to trust her team to ensure their town was well taken care of. Are you ready to do the same?