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Moving From Doer to Delegator in the New Year

We’ve all heard the saying “perception is reality,” right? This little catchphrase may sound like marketing-speak, but I believe it holds an important grain of truth, especially when it comes to our careers. In the workplace, the line between popular opinion and reality can get awfully blurry. We may not always agree with how our colleagues perceive us, but their observations and impressions still have an impact on our ability to advance. Which means examining those impressions and deciding how we want to change them is a valuable practice, especially as we continue along a leadership-focused trajectory.

Are you a doer or a delegator?

In some cases, the disconnect between reality and perception centers on our ability to delegate. For those of us who aspire to lead on a large scale, being a doer during our early career stages is incredibly important. However, as we advance, our skillset must shift to effective delegation, even if we don’t have direct reports. Why? Because being a doer for too long gives the impression that we aren’t capable of big-picture thinking. If people see us as mere doers, we will appear to be uninterested in advancement and get passed over for higher-profile projects. Doers are vital, but often seem to tread water … an impression that few aspiring leaders want to have!

And worse, if you aren’t spearheading strong professional development conversations with company leadership, these false perceptions may be determining your capabilities for you. So what do you do?

How to change perceptions around delegation

If your 2019 goals include a promotion or taking on more responsibility, but you know that your supervisors might not see you as a strong delegator, use these three tips to shift those perceptions.

  1. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. As we grow in our careers, we must learn to let go of (or say “no thank you” to) tasks or projects that won’t help us grow. Even if we’re currently the top performer in a certain area, we need to determine when it’s time to move on. If you think about it, being the best at what we do is great if we aren’t looking to grow … but if we want to evolve, we need to push forward and master new skills. Doing so helps us prepare a bench for ourselves, bringing others up behind us so we aren’t viewed as the only person capable of handling certain work.
  2. Learn to delegate, even if you don’t have direct reports. It’s a common misconception that delegation is only available to those of us who work as direct supervisors. This is understandable since that’s how delegation is most often framed. In reality, delegation can occur between leaders, cross-functionally, peer to peer, within teams, and across project groups. Even if we don’t have direct reports, that doesn’t mean we can’t delegate. How you ask? It’s back to being intentional on growing others, the relationships you have and the desire to make someone else successful. A conversation might look like this:
    Sam, I’ve just been asked to research this topic and I’m at capacity. Would you be interested in taking the lead on it? It will give you the opportunity to report your findings directly to leadership and give you more exposure for career development interests to that team.
  3. Remember, delegation is a tool best used diplomatically. In order for delegation to become part of our career advancement strategies, the tasks we delegate must be chosen and presented carefully. In other words, the work we delegate should be helpful to someone else in advancing their career. Foisting off “here, you do it” tasks will backfire spectacularly. Skillful delegation starts with a conversation that respectfully states our own goals while pointing out adjacent development opportunities for the other person.

How do we do put these tips into action? Let’s look at a couple of sample conversation starters.

How to politely decline a request of your time and delegate it to someone for a professional development opportunity:

 Thanks, Pat, for thinking of me for this request, however, I don’t believe I’m the best person to take this on, given my objectives for this year and where I need to focus my time. That said, I want to help think of someone who might be a good fit for this project. It sounds like a great opportunity for us to develop someone else who is looking to grow within the organization.


I recognize I’m good at this type of work, however, given our conversation about my career goals for this year, I don’t believe I’m the best person to take this on. Let’s talk about who might be ready for this level of responsibility.

Of course, even top-level leaders can’t delegate everything. And there are projects and tasks you’ll want to keep on your own plate simply because you enjoy doing them. The point is not to avoid all work yourself; it’s to begin declining tasks that don’t get you closer to your carefully defined career goals AND find opportunities to lift up someone else along the way.

So as you set your goals for the new year, consider how you’re perceived. If your colleagues see you as a doer, take actions that show you’re a capable delegator. When you do, you’ll ensure that others’ perceptions of you support your career advancement goals.

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