Helping Leaders Sleep at Night

Two weeks ago we took a look at what ignites followers to the highest levels of engagement. Last week we analyzed the barriers that keep leaders from creating that engagement. This week’s blog continues that story line by focusing on a practical tool that helps leaders communicate more effectively and overcome their fear of delegation. Communication is a regularly discussed topic when it comes to leadership. The what, how, when, and who of communication is often the painful punch line of plans gone awry. I had such an experience just this week.

I help organize a spiritual retreat for 16 men once a year. This year I enlisted the help of one of the group members in selecting our discussion content for the weekend. I asked him to explore sermons about the spiritual disciplines of solitude and simplicity with the hopes that we would settle on one or the other for our time together. Unfortunately, I communicated poorly and sent my friend on a wild goose chase. He ended up looking for sermons about solitude AND simplicity rather than sermons about solitude OR simplicity.  When the miscommunication was discovered my friend was gracious to accept my apology. But the truth is that some of his valuable time—not only does he lead an organization but his wife is a couple of weeks away from birthing their fourth child—had already been spent and could not be recovered.

Making sure our messages are accurately received is our responsibility as leaders. Merely throwing out a message and blaming others if it is not rightly understood is the stuff of subpar leadership. When we communicate with no clear mechanism for confirming if our messages have been received as intended, we set ourselves up for leadership failure. This is especially true as it pertains to delegation.

Communicating well while delegating important projects is required of leaders who want to maximize the volume of work accomplish under their leadership. This makes delegating well through effective communication a critical leadership skill.

A Grossly Simple Tool

There is a simple tool that puts communication guardrails into the delegation process. It offers leaders the peace of mind that comes from knowing that delegated projects are fully and accurately understood. That tool is the 7-Step Recap.

Recapping is not a complicated idea. It simply means having the person to whom a project has been delegate share back with you what he/she understands to be critical about the project. Asking subordinates to share a written recap of their understanding of delegated projects is a great way to ensure all bases have been properly covered. Doing so with a structured process helps us remember all of the important information that needs to be agreed to by both the leaders and those to whom they delegate.

A thorough recap includes seven components. This is the 7-Step Recap:

  1. Clarify the Win — This phrase, authored by leadership expert Andy Stanley, helps leaders and followers alike understand what the biggest goals of the project are. This is related to the 'why' but is usually more granular and directly connected to the stakeholders of the project.

  2. Establish the 'Why' — Author Simon Sinek is famous for sharing with the world the critical role that understanding 'why' we are doing what we are doing plays in successful endeavors. His teachings match up with decades old research from Frederick Herzberg and more recent findings by Dan Pink. Making sure those we are delegating to understand why the projects we are asking them to lead are important is an valuable influencer in both motivati0n and decision making.

  3. Agreed to Deadlines – As simple as the name suggests, writing down what is due by when is helpful to all parties. Depending on the size of the project, this might include intermediate goals and waypoints.

  4. Who Can Help – This identifies who will be available to support the person leading and executing the delegated project. Specifically agreeing on who can and should helps the project's leader know to whom he/she can reach out to for help. This agreed to list of helpers also informs the leader delegating the project who he/she should touch base with ahead of time to help the process along. Proactive communication from the person delegating the project to those who can help the project leader both confirms who is available and gives others a heads up that they may be asked for assistance. Both serve grease in the gears for those to whom the project is being delegated.

  5. Scope of Control — How much authority do the people to whom you are delegating have to make decisions? When should they involve you in decision making and when should they figure things out on their own? The answers to these questions depend both on the nature of the project and the experience of the individual to whom you are delegating. Making sure everyone is aligned on these answers at the start avoids heartache down the road.

  6. Obstacles Ahead — A healthy list of potential roadblocks is valuable to have identified. Similar to naming who can help, this list informs leaders who are delegating projects where they need to proactively assert their influence in order to help those to whom they are delegating. Removing and reducing obstacles is an important role for leaders who are delegating to others.

  7. Resources Needed — Whether equipment, people, capital, or training, having a commonly understood list of available resources aligns those involved to what is being required.

When we delegate projects, asking those to whom we are delegating to recap what they understand about the project is a great test of our initial communication. Few leaders and followers can discuss such a list without needing to clarify at least one important item. That alone speaks to the value of the recap.

Is the 7-Step Recap too formal to use regularly? That depends on the culture of your organization and scope of the project. Requiring a written recap of project details and commitments would not be appropriate for every small task discussed in the hallway. Overusing this process can introduce a sense of distrust into relationships. Deciding when it is appropriate to use the 7-Step Recap requires social and relational wisdom from you, the leader. That said, it is worth noting few leaders require it too often; far more don’t require it often enough.

Sleeping Well

A simple way to request the 7-Step Recap is to frame it as a check to make sure that you, the leader, have properly communicated everything that needs to be said. This is not merely a nice way to ask for the recap; it really does tell the story of whether or not more communication is needed.

When we fail in communication, we often fail due to the “tyranny of the familiar.” We forget to communicate all that needs to be said due to our familiarity with the project and all of its moving parts. Utilizing the 7-Step Recap helps us avoid that tyranny. In providing a checklist, it helps us as leaders loosen our grip on projects in order to expand our influence through delegation. It helps us lead more effectively as it requires us to set direction and align resources well. In the end, the 7-Step Recap gives us confidence that all that needs to be understood is understood by those to whom we are delegating.  That's the kind of stuff that helps busy leaders sleep a little better at night.

Share Your Thoughts:  Have you or a leader you've worked for ever used a checklist such as the 7-Step Recap for delegation? If so, when was it used and and what was the result? We'd love to hear from you. Join the conversation by clicking here.Click here to receive free postings from Tim Spiker and The Aperio. As a thank you, you'll receive the first two chapters of The Only Leaders Worth Following: Why Some Leaders Succeed, Others Fail, and How the Quality of Our Lives Hangs in the Balance.