My son recently asked me the question: What are the things a leader cannot delegate? As a leader of a thriving, high-impact non-profit organization (CARE for AIDS), he is trying to do what every leader should do: determine what only we can do… and then, do only those things.
His question was a profound one. I attempted to give a thoughtful response, but the truth is, I had never considered his question before. Since then, he and I have talked more, and together, we created the following short list of activities and responsibilities a leader cannot successfully delegate.
Vision – Leadership always begins with a picture of the future. The one creating the picture is exercising leadership – regardless of title or position. Leaders can solicit input on the vision, allow others to shape the vision, and deputize others to share it, but we cannot lose sight of perhaps our greatest responsibility as a leader. Leaders are the architects of the future. The vision is our tool of choice to mobilize others to pursue what does not currently exist.
Culture – Leaders are the creators and guardians of organizational culture. Attempts to delegate this will fail miserably. Leaders must establish and embody the values they want to shape the culture. We must also determine what will be rewarded and what will not be tolerated. This is how culture is formed. Without singular focus and attention, cultures will drift from the original intent. Organizations which begin as nimble, responsive, and customer-focused can become lethargic and bureaucratic… but not if leaders stand guard.
Presence – There are many situations when there is no substitute for a leader’s physical presence. Some might call this symbolic – don’t let that diminish in your mind the impact you have when you are present. Events, milestones, strategic meetings, or even personal markers in the lives of your people are all candidates for your presence. Former mayor of New York City, Rudy Giuliani says, “Weddings are optional; funerals are mandatory.” Giuliani understands the impact of leadership presence.
Encouragement – This one almost didn’t make the list, because a leader can certainly create a culture of encouragement. However, there is no substitute for YOUR words of thanks, appreciation and affirmation. As leaders, our words carry more weight. We cannot transfer, nor escape, this truth. Therefore, adding our voice to inspire and encourage will always be a unique leadership opportunity.
Crisis Management – When there is a crisis, leaders show up. People expect it. We would want it no other way. Depending on the magnitude of the situation, chances are good we are the best qualified to make key decisions. If not based on our experience or expertise, our position does carry with it responsibility. When the stakes are the highest, leaders should make the call.
Self-leadership – I have an amazing assistant. Teneya manages my calendar, challenges me, coaches me and tells me when she thinks I’ve lost my mind. All of this is extremely helpful. However, she cannot be accountable for my self-leadership. I must work daily to close the knowing and doing gap in my own life. I must attempt to live out my core values everyday, and I must lead myself well if I expect to have any chance of leading others well.
Delegation is a great strategy for increasing your personal capacity. Just be careful not to delegate the critical activities only you can deliver.[GLS_Shield]