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Smart Leadership: Delegate, Prioritize and Simplify

Nicole Fallon
Oct 25, 2013

Being the boss has its perks, but it isn't always an easy job. There are a lot of decisions to make and responsibilities to deal with.

While a leadership position does demand time and effort, good leaders know that you don’t have to live in the office to effectively guide your employees. Smart leadership is about making the most of your work hours by learning to delegate, prioritize and simplify.

The ‘hard work’ myth

People in leadership positions tend to think their success and value at work is measured by how late they stay at the office, or how much time they spend outside of work answering emails and reviewing reports. As a result, leaders often feel stressed and burned out from even the smallest tasks. There are many reasons that this work-life imbalance has remained an accepted standard for leaders through the years. In many workplace cultures, employees strive to be perceived as a workaholic in order to impress the higher-ups and earn their favor.

“When I see this behavior in leaders, I ask questions to get at the root cause,” said Roxana Hewertson, founder of business advice forum “An effective leader knows how to get the job done in a reasonable amount of time and keep their personal life and overall health well integrated with their work life.”

Similarly, Leigh Plunkett Tost, a University of Michigan business professor, noted that some people work longer and later to demonstrate a visible dedication and commitment to their organization. This practice can quickly turn into a competition if your work environment uses your office hours as a barometer of your productivity.

Leadership vs. management

Another reason that leaders may feel overworked is their failure to recognize the difference between leadership and management. Dr. John Alizor, the author of “Leadership: Understanding Theory, Style and Practice” (WestBow Press, 2013), has found that this is a common misunderstanding among leaders.

“Managers control business activities and work hard to be involved in everything they can,” Alizor told BusinessNewsDaily. “They take all the credit, whereas leaders give credit where it’s due.”

The job of a leader is exactly that: to lead. As a leader, your primary responsibility is to guide and supervise your employees as they get their work done, not to do everything yourself.

“With each task, ask yourself if it’s really something that only you can do,” advised Dr. Tasha Eurich, author of ‘Bankable Leadership’ (Greenleaf Book Group Press, 2013). “Also, keep in mind that you are not always the best person to do a task that comes across your desk.”

When leaders act like managers, they are piling unnecessary work onto their already-full plates. It’s also easy to come off as an overbearing micromanager when you personally participate in each task that needs to be accomplished.

“No one wants to work for an organization where the boss is a micromanager,” Alizor said.

Delegate and prioritize

One of the best ways to practice smart leadership is to delegate tasks to your team so you can focus your energy on the responsibilities that are specifically yours. At the same time, it’s important to plan and prioritize the work so that your team can operate as smoothly and efficiently as possible.

While delegation can certainly make you and your organization much more productive, Plunkett Tost warns leaders to be careful in the process.

“Not only is it crucial to ensure that you have competent people on your team, it’s also important to allocate work in ways that empower others to do their best and play to their strengths,” she said. “Having the power to delegate can induce a domineering mind-set in leaders, which can cause them to forget that the most crucial role of leadership is facilitating the performance of the team as a whole.

Before you begin delegating and completing tasks, take the time to build up your team’s strength and morale, Hewertson recommended.

“People should feel safe to contribute, know their roles and expectations, trust each other to do their jobs well, and utilize the power of group synergy to make them greater than the sum of their parts,” she told BusinessNewsDaily. “The fact is, jumping to a task is just not smart. It takes more time to clean up the messes that come up, and gets far less engagement from the people meant to do the task.”

The simplest path

Eurich said that leaders are often afraid of finding the shortest, simplest way to get a job done well. This could be because they think accomplishing something quickly makes it seem like they didn’t work hard enough on it, or because it’s always been done a certain way in the past. Regardless of the reason, spending too much time on a project can be much worse in the long run.

“There’s a law of diminishing returns, where the more time we spend on something, the more the quality of work decreases,” Eurich said. “Setting a time limit for an activity can help you focus and get it done. Ask yourself if there are shortcuts, or if there’s someone you can talk to who has done a similar project and can offer advice.”

The same approach can be taken with problems that arise within your organization. Deal with them quickly to avoid complicated situations down the road, Hewertson advised.

“Unresolved conflicts drain huge quantities of energy out of the system, and from you and your team,” Hewertson said. “These problems don’t go away on their own; they grow tentacles and spread everywhere.”

In order for any of these tactics to work, you must first establish yourself as a leader who is worthy of your team’s trust.

“Respect your employees, and keep your word,” Alizor said. “You need integrity and honesty, or you cannot lead. If people don’t trust their leader, they’re not likely to buy into their vision for the organization.”

Nicole Fallon
Nicole received her Bachelor's degree in Media, Culture and Communication from New York University. She began freelancing for Business News Daily in 2010 and joined the team as a staff writer three years later. Nicole served as the site's managing editor until January 2018, and briefly ran's copy and production team. Follow her on Twitter.