By Liz Belcher, CPA
Senior Manager, Tax Services
Do you feel tightness in your shoulders, as if a heavy load is clinging to them like the straps of a backpack? In business, we refer to this weight as the invisible “monkey” clinging to your back — someone else’s task that you take on as your own.
Just like monkeys swing from one tree branch to the next, problems within the workplace have a way of hopping across the rungs of the corporate ladder. Then, issues that should be worked out within the confines at the lower level of a single department end up in the lap of the manager or owner to complete and expedite.
Business owners and CEOs can often be their own worst enemies. Their extreme work ethic and type-A personalities can push them to pick up other team members’ workloads and take on too many projects — some of which aren’t even urgent or important to the team’s success. So, they constantly allow a subordinate’s “monkey” to dig its claws into their own back. In the end, it dilutes the owner’s attention to the greater needs of the business and becomes an unwelcome distraction. How do business leaders avoid this scenario?
Lose the weight and delegate! Don’t just accept the pile of work on your plate — pass it off to others around the table. Hold fellow team members accountable for delegated projects and deadlines. To prevent more employees from relying on you to pick up their slack, maybe start identifying the non-performing members of the staff. Be transparent and let them know you’re relying on them. Maybe they’ve simply grown accustomed to unfinished workloads, ultimately completed by supervisors, with NO repercussions to them personally, so they’re now immune and ill-prepared for effective delegation.
Seeing tasks spread smoothly and people rise to the occasion will undoubtedly inspire the more passive employees to start stepping up and taking initiative. However, this depends upon the amount of encouragement and positive reinforcement in the process. As Stephen Covey wrote in this Harvard Business Review article: “To delegate effectively, executives need to establish a running dialogue with subordinates. They need to establish a partnership. After all, if subordinates are afraid of failing in front of their boss, they’ll keep coming back for help rather than truly take initiative.” As to the fear of failure, one must learn that failure is just a stepping stone to success!
In other words, delegation should serve as a reminder that everyone is part of a team and rooting for each other. It should demonstrate confidence in everyone’s abilities. Confidence is contagious. If you show your team members that you trust them, they’ll hold their heads up high when you ask them to step up and assume greater responsibility.
However, as Covey also writes, “Many leaders may subconsciously fear that a subordinate taking the initiative will make them appear a little less strong and a little more vulnerable.” But the strongest leaders don’t clip their crew members’ wings; they give them the room to soar, the autonomy to make impactful decisions.
A large part of being a business owner is about holding people accountable. If you constantly take on other team members’ workloads or make up for others’ mistakes, your team will never grow. Remember, there’s no “I” in team! Don’t be your own worst enemy or let incomplete tasks keep piling up on your back. Start spreading the workload around and joining forces with your staff. Work smarter, not harder. Hold your staff accountable!