Over the last few days I have been asked variants of the simple question, “How do I do less?” This has come from leaders who feel they are just too busy to cope, and from SME business owners who are starting to think about retirement. The parallel sentiment is that they want to do less without appearing unhelpful and unsupportive.
To everyone who is busy, I first remind you of a real experiment involving a fox, a hen and some fluffy chicks.
The mother hen is placed in a large wire cage with her new brood of fluffy yellow chicks. Next a fox is released outside the cage, and the fox runs about frantically looking for a way to get at the vulnerable chicks. The mother hen’s reaction is to spread her wings, lower her head and aim her sharp beak in the fox’s direction. The chicks quickly take refuge under the mother hen’s wings and the fox quickly realises that this is not an easy meal.
Part two of the experiment sees a group of slightly larger fluffy white goslings being added to the cage before being left to settle in. Later the fox is once again released, and the mother hen reacts in much the same way, but as there are now both chicks and goslings competing for space under the hen’s wings, chaos breaks out. A number of chicks and goslings run in different directions in an attempt to find safety. The mother hen attempts to protected both the chicks and goslings already packed under her wings, whilst simultaneously running after the wayward escapees.
When success looked impossible the hen abandoned her efforts and flew to a perch in an act of self-preservation. What we can learn from this simple experiment is that taking on too many responsibilities can result in many more failures, and perhaps the feelings of resignation. (Not to mention headless chickens).
So, the killer question is, “In what circumstances do you take on other people’s responsibilities?
In my experience there are three reasons why leaders can feel under more pressure than comfortable.
1. The leader has a monstrous tendency to jump in and ‘save everyone’ by fixing the apparent problem.
This particular monster is shown in the attached picture. His or her name is ‘Have-u-tried Blar-blar’, it’s a friendly and helpful monster with a heart of gold. Have-u-tried Blar-blar is often seen running about the workplace butting into conversations and rescuing just about anyone and everyone. Often this monster rescues people who make it obvious that they have their own solutions and really don’t need rescuing…. but they get rescued anyway!
I myself have fallen foul of this over-helpful behaviour, it encourages ‘Learned Helplessness’ in your team and soon enough perfectly competent employees will seek your advice to the most mundane issues, such as “Do you know where the sellotape is?” Argghhh!
2. The leader has a reluctance to delegate tasks or find the time to train others to complete said tasks.
You’ll know you’ve created this monster when you catch yourself saying something like, “Nobody else is as quick as me!” I say, how can anybody ever be as quick as you, if they don’t have the opportunity to practice? The simple rule of thumb is, if someone can do something 75% as well as you, then let them do it. Before too long they may even be quicker than you. It’s at this stage the excuses usually pop up, such as it’s an important task. Again, I’d challenge this thought, unless it’s complex brain-surgery other people can do what you do, so cut them some slack and trust in your people.
3. The leader has difficulty in saying “no”.
There are many reasons why you may feel compelled to say yes, however, Steve Jobs famously said, “It’s only by saying no that you can concentrate on the things that are really important”, so you need to find a way of saying ‘No’ politely. A word of warning here is that too much detail will give the other person a way to come back at you, so keep it short. Something like, “Unfortunately, I’m unable to take that on, but thanks for thinking of me.” If that’s a little too curt for you try using the, ‘Yes, providing’ strategy, that might look something like, “Yes, I will contact that customer for you, providing you send me an email with all the details of her orders and a summary of what’s happened with the latest one and what you’d like me to suggest”. You are aiming for the other person to make most of the effort here, this will both make your life a little easier and avoid them passing the monkey without some inconvenience.
If you’d like more time to work on YOUR responsibilities please feel free to get in touch, 07827 682368.