Why Leaders Must Cheat, Just Not Lie and Steal

They would accuse you of cheating and kick you out of school.

If you took a class, but had someone else do your homework and someone else take the tests. In the world of academics, that’s called cheating.

In the world of work, that’s called delegation. And it’s the difference between leaders who merely wear a label and those who build great organizations.

Here’s why you must cheat as a leader by learning delegation:

1. Delegation deepens the engagement your people

Most people are bored at work. They do the same thing over and over again, with no new mountains to climb and no new obstacles to overcome.

Meanwhile, you, as a leader, are completely overwhelmed with way too many mountains to climb and way too many obstacles to overcome.

The people who work for you observe this imbalance and wonder why you won’t let anyone help you. More specifically, they wonder why you won’t let them help you.

But you’re clinging to the absurd notion that if you did, it would be cheating, getting someone else to do your work for you. What you’re really doing by your lack of delegation is cheating your people out of the opportunity to grow by refusing to let them take on tasks that get their full attention.

It’s hard to be bored when you’re walking on a tightrope. Get your people out on the tightrope with you and watch their engagement soar.

2. Delegation increases the capacity your organization

While most people are bored at work, most organizations execute way, way below their capacity. And these two realities are inextricably bound together.

When leaders do not develop their people, constantly challenging them to grow by assigning new and challenging tasks, those organizations atrophy like a broken leg shriveling up in a plaster cast.

By delegating often and repeatedly, you build robust organizational capacity and a team of people for whom nothing is impossible. What once was a high ceiling, becomes the new floor, as they continue to push beyond what you even thought was possible.

I’ve watched this happen with my own eyes, and it’s the most thrilling experience on the face of the earth. A group of ordinary people, ignored by others who failed to delegate to them, together achieving the extraordinary.

When that happens, true leadership is at work.

3. Delegation expands your potential as a leader

The final reason why you must cheat as a leader is what it does for you.

Let me explain.

Individual contributors typically define the success of their work by the number of things they get done in a day: x number of widgets produced or x number of contacts made means they had a good day.

When we take that same mentality into management, however, we keep on wanting to produce x number of widgets in a day and feel guilty when we don’t.

To assuage our guilt, we engage in frontline work and become a player-coach. In fact, we wear that title with pride. The problem is, the marketplace today is far too complicated for the player-coach approach to work, if it ever did.

One role or the other suffers, usually both.

Delegation redefines the work of a leader, not as a doer but as an equipper of doers. This doesn’t mean that leaders don’t do things, but the things they do are different. Leaders do things that enable others to do things, instead of doing those things directly themselves. Cheating.

For example, when a sales manager constantly closes deals for their reps, those reps never learn how to close a deal. Sales managers do this under the false pretense of being a player-coach. In reality, it’s because they miss the world of sales and especially miss the thrill of closing deals.

By doing this, however, they stunt the growth of their salespeople and diminish the capacity of the organizations they serve.

I contend that it’s not a sales manager’s job to close deals, but to make sure deals are closed. That’s much more than a subtle grammatical difference. It’s the difference between spending one’s life in frontline management or moving on to more executive roles.

A genius with a thousand helpers is still a genius. He or she just isn’t a leader.

Here’s the Bottom Line:

“Getting things done through others is a fundamental leadership skill. Indeed, if you can’t do it, you’re not leading,” declares Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan in Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done.

This is why you must cheat as a leader, because delegation is central to leadership. Without it, you’re really not leading at all.

Just don’t lie and steal!