Learning To Let Go: Why Delegation Is Hard (And Why It Matters)

Welcome back to the reenergized GotDegrees.com! After taking an unexpected 11 month vacation from this space, I’ve decided to reopen my old blog and to write again. Where was I, you may ask? How does running five professional staff searches and a 75 person student staff search, managing a RA program and residential region/helping to run an office through a complete staff turnover, student deaths, and morale crises, and reestablishing myself in the Greater Boston area sound to you?

Yeah, I hated it as much as you probably hated reading it, so… let’s leave it in the past where it belongs.

I’ve learned more about student affairs, management and organizational behavior, and myself in the past fifteen months than I had in the nearly ten years prior that I’ve been doing this work, and I figured it was time to share some of that with others. Having been in the position of mid-level manager, hiring manager, program director, departmental representative and more in my (not-so-new) role, I actually feel like I have something to say again, so hopefully this will be the last of the “I’m back!” posts that go up with no subsequent posts for weeks. No more writer’s block for me!

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Well, maybe not ALL… let’s start with a post a week and go from there…

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, what have I actually learned? Before we get there, let’s look back at a quote from my last post in November 2015:

From personal experience, there are days where it feels more like midnight just struck, your carriage turned into a pumpkin and you’re miles from home with no glass slippers on your feet or a dime in your pocket (and you work in education, so let’s emphasize that no dimes part).  For instance, I spent the better part of my evening on Friday night and tonight making sure sheets and towels were dry and clean for a candidate’s apartment – not because I have a fetish for clean laundry, but because it needed to get done and I didn’t have someone else around to check on it. It happens.

Time to call bullshit on myself: I could have TOTALLY asked someone else to wash those sheets and towels… but I didn’t want to ask. Why does this matter? Over the past fifteen months since I got promoted, I’ve met more unhappy people in this field than I would like to admit. They all have their own reasons for being unhappy, but one of the biggest ones is that they feel overworked, underpaid and not at all connected to the reasons why they do this work. Some of that is totally valid – SAPros learn early on to do more with less and to give 120% all of the time, which is totally unhealthy and unsustainable. However, some of the unhappiness can only be traced back to us. That’s right – most of us are miserable because we choose to be.

How many of the people that you know in this field are Type A, wannabe SuperSAPros in Clark Kent disguises? How many of us ARE the ones in the disguises? You can put your hand down now – I totally can’t see you through the screen (I promise!).. Too many times, we take too much on for any number of reasons: you don’t want to ask someone else to help and burden them, no one else can do things like you want them done, taking the time to explain takes longer than just doing it yourself, insert your own example here… None of these reasons are ultimately valid, and we know that – nor are any of them the REAL reason why we can’t let go in most cases.

So what is that real reason? For many of us, I’d guess that the real reason is that so much of what we do has become part of our identity that letting go can mean letting go of who we are. In moving up, I’ve learned that many of the roles I fulfilled as an entry-level staff member are best done by the folks in those roles – because they know their students and their populations better than I ever will at this point. I like to say to my staff now that I’ve had my turn at doing what they do – and that I loved it – but that now it’s time for them to do the same. So much of what makes many of us miserable can be directly tied to micromanagement by supervisors who don’t get that reliving their glory days on the ground floor isn’t what leading is about – mostly because they haven’t expanded their understanding of who they are beyond the “fun patrol” and “big brother/sister” roles that entry level staff are stereotypically put in.

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Last year, I took on so many of the moving parts of the program that I run in an attempt to make sure everything ran smoothly that I cheated my staff out of learning opportunities and I ran myself ragged. I got to the point where I questioned whether I wanted to continue doing the job I was doing. It took a couple of our since departed staff to say that they were leaving because they didn’t have access to the opportunities they needed – opportunities I was essentially hogging because I was on the surface nervous about their abilities or eager to prove myself in a new role (but really because I was being selfish) – for me to realize that I hadn’t done well with the most important part of being a leader: leading others through the process of learning and growing rather than dragging them through a rehash of my own early career years. I ended the academic year feeling like I had failed them, but I also ended the year with a plan to avoid doing the same to our new recruits.

I’ll talk more next week about what I’ve done specifically this year to be a better delegator, but I leave you with the following thought to chew on: Eventually if you love what you do and stay in this field long enough, you end up in roles that realistically are less connected to the day to day student experience and more about building up those who ARE connected to that experience. What sense does it make to take that experience that many of us loved so much and that motivated us to move up in the first place from the people that follow us? What do we lose when we refuse to get out of our team’s way?  What do we become?

Let’s put a pin in that for now – more on delegating next Wednesday! Thanks for reading my musings and hope to see you around here again!

J

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