The (HE)ART of Letting Go!

trapeze-smallWe all reach a point when we realise that we have to delegate. We have to relinquish some responsibility to someone else in the team, because we simply cannot do it all ourselves. If we want to grow, if we want our staff to grow, we have to hand bigger things over to them, and give ourselves the time and the energy to do something of still higher value; strategy and change management for instance.

As an R&D manager at HP, I realised that there are really 2 parts to this process of delegating and “letting go”; there’s the ART of doing it, and there’s the HEART of doing it.

The ART: Managers are responsible for getting results through the combined efforts of the people in their teams. They create the right environment for success, and develop the values and the culture, so that everyone knows how things get done. Clear team goals are cascaded from the overall business strategy and work is distributed according to skill set, competence and experience.

There will also be some framework for managing performance and holding regular reviews or appraisals. A coaching approach to performance management plays a key role, and when done well, coaching develops ownership and responsibility, creativity and commitment. Also, when supported by constructive feedback, the coaching conversations bring about enhanced learning and development of the individuals concerned.

Trusting relationships also develop along two lines

  1. The manager develops stronger trust in the competence and dependability of the individual to take on bigger tasks and to exercise more responsibility.
  2. The individual develops stronger trust in the manager who provides the right kind of support and the scope to take risk without the fear of being criticised or penalised when things don’t go perfectly to plan first time round.

That’s the ART of letting go.


The HEART: This is perhaps the harder part of delegation. It’s the part which tugs at the manager’s emotions, and is a fear of letting go. Thoughts like these come up;

  • “What if it all goes wrong?”
  • “There’s too much at stake to let Billy handle this.”
  • “I can’t afford the risk.”
  • Etc.

And those thoughts can quickly affect the physiology, create stress, and start the process of avoiding any risk. It’s especially true in smaller businesses where the original owners, perhaps a family, have grown the business from nothing.

So, if you are struggling with the HEART stage of delegating, here are a couple of ideas for overcoming that unhelpful fear.

  1. Become more emotionally aware, noting the worrying thoughts and the negative impact they can have on how you feel.
  2. Consider those thoughts. Could you choose to think – and then feel – differently?
  3. Ask yourself if the handover can be done in stages, enabling both yourself and your team member to take smaller measurable steps that build confidence.
  4. Describe what could go wrong in the worst case, and what you could do to mitigate any damage if that worst case came about.

The BENEFITS: In December’s “insider” magazine, business owners were asked the question: “Could the business function without you?”

Neil Way of Jeff Way Electrical Services had this to say:  “When you lose some of the control, it can be difficult, but you have to trust that people are doing it right.”

Ian Herbert of Vistair added:  “We’re a tiny company with massive clients, and as I started to pass them to other people, their view was ‘great, you’re growing!’ “