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Take This Step to Delegate Better

I was shocked. This wasn't at all what I had asked for. And it had to go out to the client tomorrow. Now what?

This employee and I had worked together for several years. Even before she came to work with us, I had known her for much of her life. Communication had always been easy, misunderstandings rare. But this project was a huge miss. And, in retrospect, it was my fault.

As we dug into what happened, I realized I had made a series of assumptions about the project which I thought she understood. Of course, how could she understand them when they only existed in my own head? Until I allowed them to escape through my words, she could have no idea what I was thinking.

To be honest, even when I communicate what I'm thinking out loud, there are still plenty of times I'm misunderstood. Whether it's with a client, a coworker, or a family member, I blissfully go on my way assuming we're on the same page until suddenly, like a pile-up on an icy expressway, our different understandings crash into each other at a high speed.

Leaders delegate. It's part and parcel of what we do. If you never delegate, you're probably not really leading.

There are a few essential skills that determine the strength of a leader. Delegation is one of them. Simply put, better delegation = better leadership.

Over years of trial and error I've found that if I take one simple step at the beginning of a project, it can literally mean the difference between success and failure. That step? Mine for misunderstanding.

Delegate Better

Miners dig deep in the earth to extract a valuable material. In the same way, take some time to dig deep with the person you're delegating to looking for misunderstandings about the project.

Here are some specific project areas to mine:

  • Timeline

  • Purpose

  • Style, voice, or flavor

  • Length

  • Audience

  • Criteria for success

How deep do you need to dig?

The 3S rule can help you determine how much to mine. The three S's are simplicity, significance, and span. As a general rule, the more simple the task, the shorter the span or timeline, and the lower the significance, the less mining for misunderstanding you need to do.

Asking someone to alphabetize the file cabinet doesn't leave a lot of room for ambiguity. A three minute conversation is probably plenty long. Planning an event, designing a webpage, contacting board members, revising a budget, creating a campaign, solving an intractable problem, or establishing world peace are probably worthy of an extra hour (or more) of conversation.

One more thought: sometimes mining for misunderstanding needs to take place over time. Just because it seemed like you were on the same page last Tuesday doesn't mean you still are today. Better to check in periodically than be disappointed after a lot of time, sweat, and effort have been poured into the project.

How do you mine for misunderstanding?


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