Leadership Lessons from Partnered Dance – Delegation

Often when I bring up my awareness that both following and leading are expressions of leadership people pause to ponder that concept as it doesn’t get talked about enough. I believe that all leaders must know how to and when to both lead and follow.

One example I have shared with folks is delegation. Delegation is difficult for many! I know I am still learning to lean into it and understanding it’s place and importance in my growth as a leader. Delegation stems from the realization that a leader cannot do everything all by themselves. A person is not a leader if they are working in isolation. Someone has to be on their team, assisting them in realizing a vision that they are proposing and co-producing. They have to be able to articulate their vision and invite others to join in executing it.

People are often reluctant to delegate because it requires that they trust someone else to execute a plan and it may not be done in the way the person would have done it or it may not be done to the same standards. The fear is often that delegation will actually cause more work because the project might have to be done over and therefore take more time then if it was just done by the original person from the start.

Part of the difficulty with delegation is the leading and following roles and how each leader needs to transition between the two roles.

  • The delegator must identify a task that needs to be done in enough time to reasonably delegate it to someone else. So often people get forced into delegation because they are trying to do it all themselves and right when one of the balls they are juggling is about to drop, that is when they decide they must hand it off. This timing puts added stress and pressure on the person who is now given this task unexpectedly and does not set them up for success. If you can set the stage and allow the follower time to mentally and physically prepare for the responsibility it will contribute to the overall success.
  • The delegator must be clear and detailed on what the desired outcome is. Answer the question, “What does done look like?” Describe what you want in detail. What is the standard you want it to meet? What you want it to do? How you want to feel as a result of it’s completion? All too often a delegator leaves out important information that could assist in the execution of the outcome.
  • Delegation does not mean you share or teach how you would do it. Certainly you can ask if they want to know how you would recommend it be done but they do not have to do it your way! Your way is great and works for you but it might not work for everyone because we are all wired differently in how we think, feel, and behave (#talents, #CliftonSrengths) in any given situation. This is one of the many places where the handoff from leading to following takes place. After you have delegated a task you transition to the following role. You have handed over a part of the reigns and with that you need to release some of the power and authority over that project to that person.
  • This also means that the person who is being given the task needs to also step up and take ownership over the project by asking questions, seeking clarification, and checking in periodically to ensure that they are heading in a desirable direction. There is an ebb and flow between following and leading that is funneled through the connection between the two. If they are disconnected for a long period of time then they may transition to doing solo dances (sometimes called shines) rather than a partnered dance which requires some agreed upon structure. Another way to say this is, after a task is delegated there needs to be opportunities to check-in with each other to provide status updates, do some course corrections, revisit the vision, direction, and desired outcome based on additional information or changing circumstances, etc. Checking in through-out a project is NOT micromanaging it is managing. It is removing obstacles, it is discussion options, it is clarifying vision. All of which is necessary for a successful outcome.

Delegation is not easy and it is necessary. Delegation should not be a way to dump your work on someone else. It is giving the next generation of leadership an opportunity to develop their transferrable skills, to find their voice, and to contribute to the vision. It is a way to outsource what needs to get done so that you can focus on the stuff that can only be done by you. It is a way to get more done in a shorter time frame. It is an aspect of succession planning or an apprenticeship program. It is a way to build people’s competences so that when needed you can take a break or completely step away you have people in place to keep things going. I do not mean for you to create a clone rather for multiple people each knowing a piece of the puzzle working together. Delegation is a way to build and grow your village of supporters.

So the initiator of the project / responsibility offers it to their partner. This is similar to a dance partnership when one person asks another to dance or suggests a movement. Along the way they each take turns offering provide guidance, support, and encouragement. This is similar to a dance partnership in that each dancer holds their frame, connects to their partner, and reassures one another through facial expressions and body language.

In both leadership and dance partnerships it is necessary for those involved to transition between who is leading and who is following through-out the journey. Ultimately, ending with a beautiful masterpiece of an outcome that both those who are involved in it’s creation as well as external observers can benefit.

When delegation works well, it can lead to something even better than originally imagined. It could inspire new avenues to explore!

*If you liked this analogy visit my “Leadership Lessons from Dance” blog at: https://lnkd.in/g29gkx8w

*If you liked this analogy check out my TEDxTalk titled, “Dance of Leadership” https://shaunatsobers.com/tedtalk/

*If you liked this analogy check out my chapter, “Leadership Lessons from Partnered Dance” published in the book “Visionistas: Women Who Think Outside the Box” which you can purchase a signed copy at: www.shaunatsobers.com/books

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