Photo: Brooke Lark
People typically like to do things themselves. We all have a tendency to be overly confident in our abilities.
“I think that I’m a better speechwriter than my speechwriters. I know more about policies on any particular issue than my policy directors. And I’ll tell you right now that I’m gonna think I’m a better political director than my political director.”
It wasn’t Trump who said this. It was Obamain November 2008.
That confidence is what leads many people to delegate — but not completely.
I’ve seen plenty of managers who delegate tasks, such as creating presentations or reports, only to wind up redoing the entire thing. They feel compelled to carefully edit the report line by line or run through the presentation before it’s given.
In that case, they haven’t actually saved themselves any time.
That’s why every good leader has to learn the art of delegation. The secret? Delegation is only tough when you haven’t hired the right people. If your team excels at their jobs, then all you have to do is choose the best person to make the decisions for each task.
Here’s how to go about it:
Delegation starts with hiring the right people
The first — and most important — step is finding and hiring people whose judgment you trust. That’s the only way you’ll be able to hand off projects with confidence.
Since you’re likely not the expert in every department at your company, it’s important to use the right proxies to evaluate the skills and competence of potential employees.
I’ll give you an example of how I’ve done this as CEO. When Morphic Therapeutic first started, we were trying to hire a chief scientific officer, specifically, a chemist. I was sitting down with our VP of Finance when our recruiter told us she was sending us a resume to look over. We glanced at each other, and I said, “Why would you send this to us? Neither of us knows anything about chemistry. Just send it to our Head of Chemistry. He can do the initial screening.”
The recruiter told me that at many companies, the CEO is expected to screen potential hires first. But that only makes sense if the CEO knows exactly how to evaluate them. In the situation above, I didn’t have the chemistry expertise. So I delegated that responsibility to the person who could actually do it.
But if you’ve hired several people, and you’re still somehow the best person at every job, you’ve got a problem. It means you’re delegating tasks to the wrong people, or you did a poor job hiring.
Once you have the best people, delegation comes easy
I gave a talk recently, and during the Q&A, someone asked me, “What’s something your team achieved that you didn’t think they’d achieve? And why do you think that happened?”
My answer related directly to delegation. When creating our series A presentation, our team put together a timeline for when we would move from drug discovery to drug development. I told everyone not to be reckless or conservative but to use their best judgment. To be honest, I didn’t think we were going to meet the timeline we proposed, mainly because something unforeseen often occurs.
We ended up hitting it. And I think that happened in part because our Chief Scientific Officer, Bruce Rogers, was free to do his job and lead his team. Theoretically, I could have asked him to send me updates each week, describing everything he was doing and changes he was making. I could have constantly offered my input on each piece of information.
Instead, he ran the team and made his own decisions. I wasn’t checked out of the process by any means, but simply put, my insight wasn’t as valuable in that situation.
When it comes down to it, you can’t task your team with constant explanations. You have to trust you’ve hired the right person, so you can feel confident in their judgement and let them do their jobs. And that confidence will be rewarded when your team hits their goals again and again.
But you have to know your strengths and weaknesses
I am something of your prototypical nerd. From second grade on, I was reading Popular Science and Popular Mechanics. Then, on to Scientific American in high school and to Science and Nature in college, learning all I could about science and technology. But I never deeply understood chemistry. That’s why I always hold chemists in high regard.
And yet, here I am. Running a company founded on a chemistry basis.
I’ve even joked that the best thing about moving from drug discovery to development is that I can start to understand what it is we actually do.
That’s obviously a bit of a stretch, but the truth is, there are plenty of areas where my input does not have the same value as other people’s. That’s fine. I can let them make those decisions on their own because I trust their judgment.
And that’s what delegation is all about. The people in the room who have the most experience and knowledge on a certain subject should be making the decisions about it. If you’ve hired well, it shouldn’t be difficult to step back and let processes happen naturally.