Doing All the Work Yourself? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine,

I lead a team in a large organization. I stepped in as an interim leader when my boss went out on leave—but he never came back.

At this point, my challenge is that I need to delegate more and make people on my team do the stuff they should be doing. I have managed to get by for the last eighteen months by doing much of the work myself—but I can’t keep this up. How do I change the dynamic that I have inadvertently set up here? My people are happy and comfortable with the way things are.

Where do I begin? I’ve never had any training but have been reading a lot and watching videos on leadership. I need more. Help!

Victim of My Own Ignorance


Dear Victim,

I love that you are taking responsibility for your circumstances, but this isn’t all your fault. Your organization has also helped create the situation by offering you zero guidance and support. You are not alone. Most people who find themselves managing others are in a sink-or-swim scenario and learn by trial and error. You, for now at least, seem to be swimming—so you have that going for you. You also are clear about the error you have made in taking over tasks you should have delegated to others.

I think the only way to go at this is by coming clean with your whole team. Pull everyone together and explain what you have told me here: the situation, as it currently stands, is unsustainable for you and you all need to work together to change it. Tell them you need to do a job review with each team member and hand back all tasks that don’t belong to you. Don’t call anyone out in front of the group or place blame. You need to be as clear with the group as you have been with me about how you helped create the situation; just keep it general. Then have a one-on-one meeting with each individual to go over their tasks and goals, with a specific focus on anything you are currently doing that they need to take back. You can offer clear direction and lots of support as needed to help the person work the task back onto their own to-do list. You can also share what your tasks will continue to be, so there is crystal clarity all round.

Some people aren’t going to be very happy. That’s okay. No one likes to venture out of their comfort zone. Doing this will actually take more of your time at first, and it will be frustrating. You will have to talk some folks off the ledge and put up with a little whining and attitude at first, but stay with it. For more detail on giving people what they need based on their competence and commitment on the task, check out this paper.

Be clear that your job is to be available to help, not to actually do the job yourself. This approach will help you build a much more well-rounded team and offer everyone else development opportunities—not to mention that it will keep you from becoming resentful and potentially burning out.

You can do this!

Love, Madeleine

About the author

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!

One thought on “Doing All the Work Yourself? Ask Madeleine

  1. Seems like the signature sums it up rather well, “victim of my own ignorance.” If we don’t know the answer it might behoove us to ask someone who might know how to turn on the light.

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