Ditch the fire fighter attitude and start delegating

Taking on more responsibility than your job role officially details is common practise, especially for people working in smaller organisations that find themselves overstretched and understaffed.

Ellie Ward talks to advisers from Inspire2Enterprise and successful social entrepreneur Gill Walker from Patchwork People to determine when it is necessary to admit you can't do everything yourself – no matter how skilled and wonderful you may be. 

Being the top dog at a relatively small organisation comes with numerous challenges, with one of the most common ones being determining your exact responsibilities and job specifics. How much do you delegate to your team and how much do you take on yourself?

One thing is clear, arrogant leadership in which an individual believes they are the only person fit for the tasks at hand is a recipe for failure. Wendy Gibbs, an enterprise adviser at Inspire2Enterprise, says: “Leaders might be steering the ship but they need employees and volunteers to make it move, so it’s important to ensure those individuals are kept informed regarding the aims and objectives of the organisation.”

Andrew Cook, also an enterprise adviser, whole-heartedly agrees: “Arrogance is a big turn off. No one knows everything and leaders need to surround themselves with a good team of talented individuals who complement their skill set and can be relied upon to state an opinion and have a view.”

Facing the problem

Gill Walker founded the social enterprise Patchwork People with Marj Newman in 2011. The organisation, among other things, provides young people with experience of work in customer facing environments to increase their employability. 

Gill says that running a relatively small scale social venture means, “there is definitely a greater tendency to take on more responsibilities”, because “you are aware that everyone is under pressure so you just get on with things as quickly as you can rather than 'pass it on'”. 

Individuals who fail to delegate are often already struggling with time and end up ‘fire fighting’.

The problems arise when the jobs pile up to such an extent that it is impossible to keep on top of them. Carol Deslandes, Inspire2Enterprise’s head of strategic development, says: “Individuals who fail to delegate are often already struggling with time and end up ‘fire fighting’ because they also feel they don’t have time to train someone else. 

“The risk here is corners might be cut, something gets missed or is not completed on time, all of which has a negative impact on the organisation. Also, what happens to the organisation if the individual is absent for a long period of time perhaps due to sickness?”

Finding the solution

Gill describes how she has learnt to cope with the demands placed upon her and advices other social entrepreneurs to, “share with others how you are feeling – even if you don't always delegate the tasks specifically”.

“Others can then offer personal, moral support as and when needed. Also take time out to make a 'big list' (Marj and I have had many!). The big list is just a download of every thing to do - then we chunk it and apply some timescales and decide who can take the task on. This makes it more manageable.”

Just because you are not completing the task does not mean you can’t manage it.

Delegatation and workload management is a narrative the team of advisers at Inspire2Enterprise is used to relaying, but often it is easier to discuss these issues than to actually put them into practice. Wendy says it’s important to realise that, “just because you are not completing the task does not mean you can’t manage it.”

“Communication is key to ensure that the individual understands what is required and within what timeframe.”

Mistakes are bound to happen at some point but it is important to allow some of these mistakes in order to support the development of your staff. Wendy’s colleague Andrew reflects on how he used to ‘initiate’ new employees where he worked previously. “I used to sit down with all the new joiners and give them my permission to make mistakes because if they were not making mistakes then they were not learning.

“When a situation arose I asked them to remind me of what I had said but also warned them that I would start to worry if they continually made the same mistakes again and again,” he explains. 

In Forbes’ 100 best quotes on leadership, American business guru Jack Welch comes in at number eight with the statement: “Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.”

It is important for social entrepreneurs to remember this when they feel as though they're doing the lion's share of the work. And it's crucial to beat the fear that something will go wrong or take too long if they delegate.

Pioneers Post Business School content is delivered in partnership with Inspire2Enterprise. Inspire2Enterprise provide a unique, free-to-access social enterprise support, information and advice service – from start-up through to initial growth and beyond. Call them on 0844 9800 760 or visit www.inspire2enterprise.org to find out more.

Photo credit: Flickr