When you help your team, you’re NOT helping them.

Blog | April 19, 2022

When you help your team, you’re NOT helping your team. Here’s what I mean

“Where are we on this project?” It was an innocuous DM from her CEO—he was just checking in—but it sent Maria into a tailspin. Her heart raced and she started to sweat.

“We are getting there,” she typed back in Slack. Her hands shook. “Got a meeting, gotta go. More later.”

Fortunately, she and I had a session on the calendar, so she brought up the exchange. “That was a week ago,” she exhaled audibly.

“How is the project going?” I asked.

“We are totally behind!” she admitted, panic-stricken, then pursed her lips in determination. “I think I can get it all sorted. I just need more time.”

Maria shook her head. “Except—there is no time!”

She started listing the initiatives she now spearheaded and all their related projects; the open headcount they were actively hiring for; the new relationships with the other executives that were now her responsibility to tend… As the new VP of Product, there was more on her plate than ever before. 

The sheer amount of work was staggering. I could feel the weight of it, how impossible getting it all done seemed.

“Where is your team in all this?” I asked gently.

Maria stared at me blankly. “They’re… they’re doing their part.”

Before ascending to VP, Maria prided herself on being “on it.” A high-achiever, she was known for how much she could get done in a short amount of time. The company’s founder had hand-picked her for this role. Clearly, she’s competent.

But when push came to shove, as the deadlines mounted, the anxiety brought her back into her default mode—trying to do everything herself.

Enter: The sexiest word in the English language.

That’s right: Delegation. 

Maria knew she should delegate more; it is “Leadership 101,” after all. But, like many leaders, she struggled with it. It wasn’t her m.o. It hadn’t gotten her to the level she’d achieved. Doing all the things had. But something had to change, and fast—she was drowning.

By trying not to overtax her team, she was actually halting their results. (Hint: When you think you’re helping, you’re actively getting in the way.)

Finally, she blurted in frustration: 

“But who am I, if I’m just telling people what to do?”

Exactly,” I confirmed.You’re a leader. That’s your job: You tell people what to do.

We’d finally hit on the belief that was getting in Maria’s way. In her eyes, her value was directly related to how hard she worked, how much she delivered. But at this level, the only way TO deliver is through your team. Telling people what to do is actually a much more sophisticated skill set.

As you’ll hear me say often: Your people are now your deliverable. Not the deliverable itself.

The tech leaders who come through my doors who don’t delegate (which is all of them; every leader struggles with this) invariably tell themselves a story just like Maria’s, or one (or all) of these:

“I don’t want to send shit downhill.”

“They’ve already got a lot on their plates, and I don’t want to make it worse.” Or “It would be quicker and better to do it myself.”

Thoughts like these stop delegation in its tracks. Worse, they keep leaders from making the shift from executing to leading

Instead, these leaders push themselves harder, when the conversation needs to be: What needs to fall off my plate so I can do my job better? 

What needs to be reprioritized for team members so that they can do a better job with the items delegated to them?

As I worked with Maria to understand her reaction to the CEO’s question, I could see the surprise on her face. She admitted with surprise, as the realization struck her:

“I don’t know how to talk to my direct reports about this.”

Every leader knows they should delegate. But this doesn’t touch the root cause behind why a leader isn’t delegating even when they know they should… and until the root cause is revealed and dealt with, the problem will keep popping its head up, in different variations.These are exactly the types of situations we explore as part of the MettaWorks process. If you’d like 1-on-1 guidance to become the leader you’re meant to be, schedule a complimentary discovery call here.

Rachel Rider
Executive Coach, Leadership Consultant