I work with lots of leaders in companies ranging from Fortune 10 to start-ups, and there are two skills that many leaders struggle with, and I wanted to talk through those in this article.
When I say facilitation, I don’t mean you’re helping make things happen. I mean that you can execute meetings well and collaboratively. Most leaders struggle with meetings that are more than disseminating information or hoping someone breaks an awkward silence to take ownership of a situation.
Leaders running poor meetings like this need to quickly grow their facilitation skillset to get better decisions, actions, and teamwork from the folks around them. If you think about the impact of the decisions that people make in meetings, it should be a no-brainer that expertise in facilitation is worth it.
A great book to explain the fundamentals is called Collaboration Explained by Jean Tabaka.
With highly developed facilitation skills, leaders can bring dozens of folks from across different groups into a room who may need to work better together and create alignment, buy-in, and an action plan. Without well-developed facilitation skills, they will avoid bringing everyone into the room and try to convince each group individually that their plan is the best.
I’ll be the first to admit that learning to delegate is challenging and ever-changing. Nevertheless, the higher-up a leader goes, the more important delegation becomes. Leaders can’t be everywhere at once and can’t be the only one who makes decisions.
Let’s think about a few quick scenarios. A leader sees many low-risk decisions ahead and asks someone else to take care of them. Most leaders are comfortable delegating these decisions and meetings.
Another scenario is a presentation from some other groups about the work they’ve been doing and the opportunity for strategic partnerships between them. The leader doesn’t delegate here because they want to have the information first-hand and to have influence in the direction of future partnerships.
Another scenario is that a high-profile project is at risk, and there are questions about the new plan for the project. Leaders will often refrain from delegating this meeting since it is about a high-profile project.
I want to challenge these last two scenarios. For many groups, these last two scenarios happen so regularly that a leader’s calendar is triple-booked, and they fall behind on their actual duties.
Leaders often struggle to spend enough time with their actual reports and knowing the details of what is happening in their work areas. They don’t have time because they won’t delegate meetings for fear of missing something important or losing influence in a key moment. Yet, when we delegate, we can often preserve influence through other means and free up the time needed to lead more effectively.
What do I look at for how I delegate and coach leaders to delegate? Where many leaders look at delegation through the lens of influence, I look at delegation through the lens of risk. When I delegate, I consider a worst-case scenario. Once I do that, if I can come up with a way to mitigate the risk, I delegate. If I cannot come up with a way to mitigate the risk, I do not delegate. Often, a conversation to better prepare the person I am delegating to is all it takes to minimize the risks I’ve imagined.
When I look at all the leaders I’ve worked with over the years, very few have both of these skills. Many leaders delegate the easy stuff and struggle knowing they need to delegate more. Fewer have any competency in facilitation, and this cripples their group’s decision-making abilities. The few leaders with both of these skills are a marvel to behold, and their people follow them wherever they go.