The One Skill Executives Struggle With Most

I have been coaching senior executives for 14 years. The skill I spend the most time helping leaders develop is delegation. It is my most requested topic by CEO peer groups. In my presentation I refer to the work of William Oncken, “Time Management Who’s Got the Monkey.” In these scenarios, monkeys represents important tasks. Last week when I presented to an executive peer group, I received several questions. Here are some of those questions and my solutions to these problems:

How do you manage a senior executive who is giving you too many monkeys?

You want to be a team player, secure your position and do a good job, but you are getting burned out. Your manager wants you to be happy and may not know that you are overwhelmed. Take some time to share with your boss all your current projects (monkeys). Let her know that you are currently stretched to your capacity. Ask them if they will evaluate all your priorities to determine if something can be reprioritized, reassigned or dropped. Let your boss know that you care and that you want your projects to be completed timely, and a new assignment will jeopardize your ability to complete your current priorities. Possibly a new more realistic timeline can be agreed upon. Sometimes this kind of open candor is what is needed to rebalance your workload.

How can I increase my team members ability and willingness to accept delegated assignments (monkeys)?

Another Sr. manager was happy that she was delegating more. She reported that it made a huge difference in how productive she was. She was able to be more strategic and work on bigger challenges instead of staying stuck in the weeds. Her concern was that her people were uncomfortable with her delegating so much.  Let them know what you are doing. Explain why you are delegating and the impact it is having freeing up your time to be more strategic and solve important problems. Help the team understand how they are helping by taking on more responsibility. Connect their efforts to helping the company grow. Let them understand exactly why you are delegating and what happens if you don’t. When people understand the “why” and how their efforts are making a difference, they will be much more supportive.

How do you manage people who have different personality styles, needs, and motivators than you?

As we practiced the skills required for effective delegation such as listening and asking effective questions, a couple of the of the managers expressed they did not like sharing information about themselves during role play. One very experienced leader said he prefers to ask rather than answer questions. He prefers to deflect the attention and scrutiny. Your personal preferences will impact how the team opens and shares. Every team reflects the influence of the team leader. When you are unwilling to be vulnerable and open, it will be hard to expect that of others. Some people are less extroverted than others. In this case, the unwanted attention is understandable. Some employees love recognition, others avoid it. The same is true of managers. If you do not give recognition because you don’t want it or need it, it is a mistake to not give that recognition to your team members. You must be able to manage people well who are different from you. Are you willing and able to adjust to different styles? Are you willing to answer questions so your team will be willing to do the same?

How do I get a senior executive to take feedback?

One vice president had one senior team member that did not take feedback well and was not carrying his weight on the team. In this case, it is a good idea to set expectations away from a problem. Create team agreements about how you will work as a team and how you will give and receive feedback. Create agreements about how you will handle conflict. Now that you have a baseline, when this team member does not perform, you can address them. If they do not respond well, you can refer back to the agreement. Remind them of their commitments and agreements. If that doesn’t work, this may warrant a verbal or written warning. Another method of accountability is to create more transparency around projects and workloads. As people are aware of what each other are doing, it creates pressure from peers to perform. I have noticed that many managers are less comfortable letting their team down than their manager. This can be a powerful incentive to keep commitments.

How do I manage team members that don’t have the capacity to handle all that is expected of them?

Many managers take on more responsibility because they feel their team is not able to do more. This may be out of concern for the team member or to ensure the project is completed timely and correctly for the client. It is the manager’s job to get their people ready to handle more responsibility. That won’t happen if you are over-protective of your team. Give people a little more responsibility than they are capable of. Cause them to stretch without overwhelming them. Make yourself available to help and mentor them. Having stretch assignments gives people the opportunity to grow their capabilities. With your mentoring and guidance, they will gain confidence and experience to take on more important assignments. Transfer the time you would be taking on these responsibilities or monkeys into time coaching your team. In some cases, you may need to do the work yourself, but make sure the team member who you want to do this work is there with you, watching and learning. Sometimes we are so concerned with being efficient, we forget to be effective. Coaching and delegating is not always efficient in the short-term, but it is in the long-term. Think of teaching children to clean their rooms when they are little. You can do it much faster. But if they never learn, you will be cleaning your kids’ rooms until they leave your house. That is neither efficient nor effective.

How do I create accountability when team members are your family?

In this scenario, family members are not meeting expectations. There are no real consequence of being fired for lack of performance. One senior manager reports they have no problem giving feedback when a family member doesn’t meet their goals. However, there are currently no consequences other than getting yelled at by a brother, so the behavior is not changing. In this scenario I recommend the family leadership get together and creating an agreement of how they will work together and follow-through with commitments and agree on consequences if they don’t. One of the best ways to increase consequences is to let the offending executives’ direct reports know how they are doing. There are many ways you can create more visibility around goals, projects, and assignments (monkeys). Some organizations have a “leaderboard” of results. This works well with sales, and it can also be applied to any goals, projects, or strategic initiatives. When people know who is working on what and when it is due, it creates peer pressure to perform. The family leaders will also want to look good to their direct reports. Also, they will want to set the example if they expect similar productivity from their individual teams. They will lose their moral authority if they don’t step up. This may create the added pressure and consequences needed. Creating visibility and transparency is a great way to get behavior to change.

How do I keep my small team engaged?

One partner of a small and growing marketing firm noticed that his team’s enthusiasm during their monthly state of the union address was low. One partner does all the talking to update the team in their monthly “town hall meeting.” The other partner, not presenting, notices that his people are not engaged and are checking out. He even notices that he loses focus. They are checking out because they are not involved. They don’t have much incentive to stay present. When you involve your team, engagement will go up. Everyone could have a responsibility to report on part of the business. When they have to report, they will be more engaged, and it will give them a reason to be prepared and know more about the operations of the business. This increased ownership of the report will impact ownership of the results. It will also make it much more enjoyable for everyone.

If you have a question related to accountability and delegation, message me here. Please share successes or failures you have with these leadership skills. The Author Spencer Horn is the President of Altium Leadership For additional information consider the following topics: “The Power of Accountability;”, “Love What You Do”, “The Truth About Authentic Leadership”, “Effectively Managing The Praised Generation”, “How To Solve More Problems As A Leader”, “How to Prepare Your Next Generation of Leaders”, “Why Employees Don’t Do What You Hired Them To Do”

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