By Kay Fittes, Founder and CEO of High Heeled Success, LLC
We all have so much to do, and so little time. It’s become the way of life for most of us. The affliction is expressed in many different ways; “I’m so busy,” “I have so much on my plate,” “There is never enough time,” “I can’t catch up,” “I have no idea how I’m going to get it all done.” With the frequency we say and hear these things, it would seem that we’d be open to help for our condition. Yet, with many of my clients, the opposite continually rings true. The mere suggestion that a co-worker, employee, manager or subordinate could help lighten the load is more often than not met with “Oh, I could never to that!”.
Women in higher management tend to struggle with delegation the most. Seems paradoxical, but it’s true. Delegating was an easier task for many when coming up through the ranks, but I find that once women reach a certain level, they are remiss to let go of the reigns so to speak. Below is a list of the most common barriers to delegation, and their common rationales behind them.
- Perfectionism – This issue is by far the most difficult challenge women face, regardless of their level, but it is especially pervasive at the top. Many women feel they’ve worked really hard for a long time to get where they are, and fear losing what they’ve gained. To them, delegation means losing control of the outcome or that the work or project won’t live up to their high standards or expectations. In reality, having everything ‘just right’ can often cause much larger issues such as missing deadlines and burnout. The anxiety that accompanies this often leads to depression and never feeling that they or their work is ‘good enough.’
- Do It Myself Attitude – This excuse is common in technical fields, finance or analysis-heavy projects. Women who have this attitude often take great pride in their knowledge base and find it very difficult to accept that someone else could do just as good of a job. Some women in this category fear that if they do delegate and someone else does a good (or better) job, the employee will get all the credit and recognition. This issue runs strong in women who crave affirmation and thrive on recognition.
- Guilt in Delegating – Guilt is a combo issue. On one hand, you may have the assumption that you should be able to do it all and if you delegate you may look weak and unable to carry the load. On the other hand, you may be reluctant to add more to your employees’ plates. Perhaps they are already working hard, don’t make high salaries, or the organization is going through a difficult time. This may have some validity, but it still does not warrant stunting the growth of your team.
- Fear of Telling Others What to do and Reaping Criticism – As a female leader, you may garner some criticism for telling others what to do. You may get responses verbally and through body language that imply, “Who do you think you are, anyway?” Well, you are the boss. Time to grow thicker skin! If you don’t delegate for fear of receiving push back or criticism, you are allowing yourself to be held hostage by others. Others may call you bossy. Heed this quote from Mikki Paradis, “I’m not bossy. I am THE boss. Those who don’t understand the difference have no room in my world.”
- Understanding of What the Job Entails – This happens when women think they have to have ‘all the answers’ and can’t ask for help. They worry that if they don’t know something, they will appear inept. Women leaders who don’t delegate because of this roadblock can overcome it when they realize that no one has all the answers or the inside scoop on how to do it all correctly and efficiently.
Benefits of Delegating
When rising to the ranks of leadership, your role should naturally become more visionary with a focus on the bigger picture and outcomes. Your role transforms from working ‘in’ the business to working ‘on’ the business. As such a top priority as a leader must include developing the leader in others. Below are some of the key benefits of delegating as it relates to leadershipes’.
- Empowers others – Delegating gives others a sense of empowerment. Any control issues you may have at the onset will diminish as your team members feel empowered to take tasks head on.
- Builds confidence in others – You were given a team because someone had confidence in you and your abilities. Someone took a chance on you. Model that behavior by showing your confidence in others with delegating tasks that are either new to them, or just out of their comfort zone.
- Develops others – Delegating something complex (that you may think takes too long to explain), has a big payout here. Teaching and training develops others to a higher level, increases their capacity, and makes them a more valuable asset to the team. It also increases their sense of self-worth.
- Builds trust – There is nothing worse than secrets, mistrust and skepticism in the workplace. It not only destroys relationships; it is incredibly counterproductive to the business. Delegating important projects builds trust, especially when comes with significant responsibility. It says, “I know you can do this!” to your employee.
- Breaks down barriers – Delegating takes time and can strengthen relationships. Done correctly, it can create an environment of transparency where manager and employees feel safe in their roles and responsibilities, and know that someone always ‘has their back.’
- Builds a strong team – Delegating based on team members’ strengths will grow each one stronger. Instead of fearing that you won’t get the credit, letting individuals shine in the limelight will reflect well on the whole team.
- Developing leadership – When your team grows strong and their leadership is recognized throughout the company, it will reflect well on you. While it’s true that something could indeed go wrong (if that is your fear) people learn through their mistakes and the mistakes of others. It’s all an important part of the development process, as the learning is applied going forward.
- Shows your faith in them – If you are known for perfectionistic tendencies, delegating to a team member can convey your faith in them. If your team knows you have very high standards, and you delegate with words of encouragement and positivity, they will be assured of your faith in them.
- Builds loyalty – If your employees feel like they are on the receiving end of your trust and faith while also being developed as a leader, they will become fiercely loyal. Your fear of appearing weak to others will be allayed when your company recognizes how committed your team is to you and their work.
- Encourages new ways of thinking – You may have always done things a certain way, and it’s been good. Imagine delegating some of your favorite tasks and having them tweaked or built upon to be even better or stronger. This provides both an opportunity to recognize someone for their abilities, while providing efficiencies that have a positive impact on the business.
I’ve seen transformative results when women conquer hurdles to delegation. One such instance occurred when I helped a client to delegate by overcoming her fear of being too bossy. Growing up she continually heard messages from her mother like “stop being so bossy – you’ll never have any friends.” She internalized this message through adulthood. It manifested by her pushing down her ideas and needs, deferring to what others wanted in the hopes that everyone would “like her.” Some of her needs were to delegate, and it was almost impossible for her to do it.
I helped her realize that she could establish boundaries for herself and outline the needs of the business (which included delegating) without being bossy. This was a huge revelation for her. Further, I helped her understand that if she executed these requests with diplomacy and professionalism, others would respect her more. This was a completely different way for her to operate versus trying to be a pleaser all the time. As a result, she was able to work with a new empowered attitude and work much more effectively and efficiently.
Did you find yourself identifying with any of the barriers to delegation, but also encouraged because you sparked to some of the benefits it could have? I have guided hundreds of women who have successfully faced and conquered their challenges of delegating projects and authority. If you would like someone to walk with on this journey, I would love to be your guide. Email me at email@example.com or give me a call at to discuss how I can help.
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Kay Fittes is the founder and CEO of High-Heeled Success, LLC, specializing in training, keynote presentations, and consulting for women. Ms. Fittes is an expert on gender behaviors that put women at a disadvantage in the workplace. Her registered trademark, High-Heeled Success®, is a system for empowering women to command a competitive edge in the workplace. Though she now presents programs to women on creating an executive presence and polished presentations in corporations, associations, conferences and public events, Kay is the least likely person ever to have this role. She started her life as invisible, voiceless and afraid of everything. She is living proof that no matter how pitiful you start, you can end more powerfully, as evidenced by the fact she has presented to almost 100,000 women and in over 2,500 programs! With an insight to action approach, Kay Fittes takes audiences and workshop participants through an evolutionary, chameleon-like experience. Her programs present a cornucopia of strategies for women to take life-changing steps in their professional lives.
Ms. Fittes is the author of four books, including: Achieving High-Heeled Success: 50 Ways for Career-Oriented Women to Succeed; How to Raise Your Self-Esteem: An Action Guide for Women; Go Ahead and Laugh: A Serious Guide to Speaking with Humor; Your Guide to Life-Changing Presentations and is the creator of the CD Panic to Power: Swift and Simple Speaking Strategies Anyone Can Use.
She has served as a consultant and presenter to the business, medical and educational communities. Her clients include Procter & Gamble, Anthem, Fidelity Investments, Children’s Hospital, and The Ohio Department of Education. Ms. Fittes is a graduate of the University of Tennessee and holds a Certification in Leadership Training. Kay is the past Vice President of the Ohio Council for Self-Esteem and past area governor for.
Toastmaster’s International. She is active in the National Speaker’s Association, The Public Speaker’s Association, American Society for Training and Development, American Association of University Women, National Association of Female Executives, Toastmaster’s International. Kay Fittes sits on numerous advisory boards for women’s advancement and Dress for Success is the designated outreach of her company.
Testimonial from me: I have personally attended her events and Kay is a real as they come. A little woman, but a big a ball of fire. This woman can really ignite a room. She is a powerful speaker and full of wisdom that you ladies do not want to miss out on.