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Managers: Know when to let go

As a manager, you have a great many duties you need to perform each day – in addition to your 'normal job'. One of your key duties is to mentor and mould those who report to you. However, because they aren't you, they won't – necessarily – perform tasks as you would've done these yourself. Although the thought of doing everything yourself may cross your mind – because it's simply 'easier' – you need to suppress it because if you do everything yourself you're doing both yourself and those who report to you a disservice. The trick is to know when to let go.

Leo Babauta, renowned author of the blog Zen Habits, has written an e-book entitled The One Skill: How Mastering the Art of Letting Go Will Change Your Life. In it, he says that the root of all our problems – be these personal or business – stem from the fact that we aren't able to let go of certain issues. Very relevant to the business world, he looks at the idea of stress and says that the reason we experience stress is we want things to be done a certain way. We are unable to trust others to take over these tasks because we don't feel that they will be able to perform these as well as we would've done them. We hold onto them for dear life and decide to perform these tasks ourselves and, in the process, burnout and neglect other areas of our lives.

I have a friend who was in a similar situation.

For a number of years, she was overworked and had to do two people's jobs because – she was told – there wasn't enough money in the budget to hire someone else under her. The consequence of this was that every month, like clockwork, she would become very sick with either a stomach bug, a cold or flu.

A couple of months ago, her manager came to her and told her that they would be hiring someone under her so that she could shift some of her more mundane responsibilities onto this new, more junior employee. As a consequence of this, my friend would be able to get to some of her more strategic responsibilities that she wasn't being able to get to simply as she didn't have enough time. Her manager emphasised that my friend would be responsible for training this new employee and delegating her tasks to him.

When I saw her last week, I asked her how the new employee was panning out and if she was feeling less stressed. My friend said the new guy was very eager to learn and had a lot of qualifications – although not much experience – but she was having a problem as she was finding it difficult to handover some of her responsibilities to him. She told me that she felt he wouldn't be able to do what was necessary, 'properly', and to save time, she would do what needed to be done herself – and save everyone else time.

In a couple of months, my friend will probably find herself being burnt out and – on top of this – having to answer to management as to why an additional person had been hired when all he was doing every day was surfing the Internet. She had to learn how to let go.

Remember that letting go of some of your responsibilities at work isn't about giving up and admitting that you can't do your job. A vital part of your job, as a manager, is teaching and mentoring the people under you. So if you hoard all the responsibilities for yourself, you're not – in fact – doing part of your job. If you burnout, you won't be doing anyone any favours as you won't be showing anyone that you can do your job.


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