Simon is a check list kind of guy. He makes a “to do” list and has every expectation that by the end of the day, the list will have shrunk. Unfortunately, in his new position as chief administrator of his not-for-profit organization, the opposite was happening. Day’s end found the list to be longer and longer, and Simon was denied the tangible evidence of accomplishment he wanted to motivate his work.
The presenting issue was one of prioritizing. What absolutely needed to get done each day? What could wait? And what tasks could be passed on to others?
The answer to the last question was “none.” Simon could not let go of any tasks, no matter what the size and no matter who made the requests. The multi-stage, organization-wide evaluation and review acquired the same level of importance as the unloading of antique furniture for a fundraising auction. Each request demanded his immediate attention and concern, whether it could receive immediate action or not.
Questions revealed Simon’s strong sense of personal responsibility for each task assigned. Frankly, he didn’t give much thought to how his staff would respond to reluctance to delegate, or to his tendency to micro-manage when he was forced to hand off tasks. Instead, he worried about perception – what people would think of him if he personally “failed” to complete each task.
Once Simon gave voice to the source of his concerns about perceptions and responsibility, he gained awareness of how that concern affected the choices he made, and how he interacted with his staff. Letting go of the fear of negative assessment freed him to take more risks with his staff and their assignments. The trust he exhibited with his subordinates in turn generated more confidence, creativity and risk-taking.
As for the “to-do” list: it didn’t shrink. Yes, Simon now had the ability to clear more of his top priorities from his list. However, the input from his newly-empowered staff created new options to explore. Instead of carrying a list of reproach, Simon now works from a list of opportunities.
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