“I have a problem delegating. Either I do not trust my people to do a good enough job or I the project is too interesting/too much visibility for me to pass it up.” This jarringly honest comment endeared me immediately to my recent client. She is a top talent at a global organization. She came from humble beginnings and has always worked harder than anyone around her in order to prove she is good enough to be where she is. Let’s call her Claire. Rarely have I met someone with such high self-awareness and willingness to talk about her shortcomings.
“I do not let my best direct report join the most important projects because I am afraid he will outshine me.”
Claire knows full well that as a manager, she should delegate more but she has not yet found her way across the desert of transition from the land of ‘Working Hard to Shine’ to the land of ‘Making Opportunities for Others to Shine’.
The higher one gets in an organization without crossing this lonely desert, the harder it will be to keep one’s work-life balance in check. In fact, the people who don’t make this transition are usually the unhappiest…even if their walls are full of accolades and get promotion after promotion. They often work 60-80 hours per week and have lost almost all contact with friends and family. Another tell-tale sign is how she is viewed by different groups in the organization. Although Claire’s 360 degree survey showed high scores from managers and clients, she got very low scores from peers and direct reports.
Unless Claire can make the essential change in mindset, from performer to rewarder, her assent up the career ladder is likely to falter.
The need for recognition
It is hard to let go of the addiction to reward and recognition long enough to let someone else shine in your place. At first it seems almost painful not to bask in the glory of a job well done. Claire, like many others, used rewards as a way of confirming that she was adding value, that she deserved to be in the high level position she was. But she would discover later that the long term rewards of coaching someone else to get that job well done are far deeper and greater.
Claire needed to believe that she deserved to be there. Yet she couldn’t. She had worked hard to get to where she was, yet still somehow felt she shouldn’t be there. She felt that if people found out how she really is, how little she really knows, how imperfect her experience really is, they would kick her out. She felt like an imposter.
This haunting feeling pushed her to make irrational decisions like preventing her eager and talented team member from taking on more challenging projects – ones that were currently robbing her of any chance of creating free time for herself on evenings and weekends.
Together in our coaching sessions, she learned how to identify and set aside her inner critic voice in order to be able to apply reason to her situation. With her rational mind back in action, she could clearly outline solid reasons why she deserved her role.
She also began to see how she and her ego were responsible for creating and perpetuating her punishing schedule. She no longer felt the need to point fingers or blame circumstances for her unhappy situation. As she began to take responsibility for her life, she realized she had the ability to change it.
As the coaching sessions continued, Claire’s whole posture changed. She seemed to have grown taller and had a shining smile on her face. She looked nothing like the woman that walked into our first session.
Claire’s self-awareness and honesty allowed her to make a giant leap forward in the short time we spent together. My guess is that many of my other clients also experience such clarity, but are not willing to admit such “weakness”. In my opinion, Claire’s willingness to admit her weakness was her greatest strength. It is the main reason why she was able to make a profound change for herself.
Claire is now head of her department and her team had an exceptionally high rating on the recent Employee Engagement Survey. Her talented direct report? Claire supported his promotion to become her successor.