She asked me what I thought about letting her team respond to an RFP, just to gain the experience of pulling together a new business proposal.
I asked her if she cared if they didn’t win the business.
She said no.
I asked her if the team had the resources they need to do the work without her.
She said she was pretty confident they did.
I asked her what she would do if they did win the business.
She said, “I’d have to hire more people!”
I asked her if she was prepared to do that.
She said she was.
After that line of questioning, I told her I thought it was a brilliant idea for several reasons:
- It takes her out of the new business proposal writing.
- It gives her team the experience of not just writing the proposal, but asking the right questions.
- It provides an opportunity for her team to fail safely…or to win really big.
- It gives them the confidence to help grow the business, which allows it to scale and move beyond just her capabilities.
- It proves she trusts them.
Why is Delegation So Hard?
Having to delegate is one of the hardest things we have to do.
If you’re a type A personality (whistling and looking around), it’s even more difficult because, by nature, we’re control freaks.
And being a control freak in a leadership position is not a good thing.
Not only does it prevent the organization from growing, it creates a culture where people don’t stick around.
They eventually leave because no one likes to be micromanaged and told what to do, instead of allowing them to behave like grown-ups, use their critical thinking skills, and actually perform well.
And, while this is very logical thinking—something that makes sense even to type A personalities—it’s still very difficult to break the pattern of doing it all yourself.
This is why I really love this idea my friend presented.
It gives her the freedom to delegate to her team, and it allows her to give up control in a safe environment.
Six Ways to Delegate and Ensure Success
On the flip side, you may have a person or a team of people who are not accustomed to having the freedom to do their jobs the way they think best.
Which means you have to paint a picture of success and pump up their confidence as they do the work.
If my friend does delegate this RFP to her team, there are several things she’s going to have to do to ensure success on their end (she can’t ensure it on the client’s end):
- Paint a picture of success. In the case of my friend, the success may not be winning the business because that’s not something they can control. Perhaps the success then becomes delivering the RFP a day early or coming up with a creative idea they all love so much it can be used for another client if they don’t win the business. But, at the beginning of the process, it’s important to talk about what success looks like when they are finished.
- Prove you believe in the person or the team. A few weeks ago, I wrote about the leadership qualities no one talks about—and one of them is listening. If you are to prove you believe in the team, ask lots and lots of questions, don’t provide any answers (ask “what do you think?” over and over and over again), and expect them to come to you with solutions if they have a problem. This will prove you believe in them and will give them the confidence to move ahead.
- Hold them accountable. You may still need to project manage the process so provide several deadlines that will help them achieve success. And then hold them accountable to meeting those deadlines with something that is useful (not just putting something on paper for the sake of meeting a deadline).
- Stop and smell the roses along the way. This goes with number three in that you have smaller deadlines that lead to the larger deadline. When those smaller deadlines are met, celebrate those successes. It’s really difficult to do because most of us are focused on the big deadline, but doing this will help grow the person’s or team’s confidence.
- Let them fail. This is so, so important. My friend’s team may not win the business, and that’s okay. RFPs are really difficult, particularly for small firms. So it provides a really great opportunity for them to fail safely. Be prepared to let your team do that.
- Model growth. If you want to continue down this path (and you should!), you need to model growth. Which means you have to keep doing this work—giving up control, delegating, allowing your team to fail, giving them the confidence to make decisions without you, asking lots of questions and shutting up to listen. Model the growth you want from them by living it every day.
I’m excited to see what happens when my friend does delegate this and lets her team pursue this RFP on their own.
But more, I’m excited to watch her personal growth when she does delegate, gives up control, and discovers she has a team of really talented people who may not need her at all (which is another topic for another day).