Do It All and Suffer the Consequences

You risk sending the message that you lack management skills, have an out-of-control ego – or both.

By Amy Rauch Neilson

You have redefined "Take One for the Team" to mean "Take ‘Em All for the Team." In fact, if your life story was a made-for-TV movie, you’d be the one knocking down all of your teammates so that you could catch the ball and run it into the end zone – every single time.

Impressive? Not really.

Playing the martyr can backfire. You’re inadvertently sending the message that you need to improve your management skills, you have an out-of-control ego, or both. "Failure to delegate sends the message to your team members that they’re not capable," says Sandy Allgeier, a former corporate HR executive and author of The Personal Credibility Factor.

Allowing your team members to do what they do best not only lightens your load, but gives them the opportunity to shine. That’s a win-win for everyone, says Tom Kochan, the director of software development for Owens & Minor, a medical supplier based in Richmond, Va.

"Each member of my team is focused on a particular discipline – for example, Web development, database design, or integration," Kochan says. "We mitigate the risk of project monopolization by identifying and delegating tasks according to each teammate’s specialization. This also promotes collaboration and improves the quality of work as each team member becomes accountable for his or her piece of the puzzle."

It also helps avoid the danger of you dropping the ball at some point. "Trying to do it all yourself creates a sloppy result," says Dennis O’Brien, president of Coastal Financial Advisors in Farmingdale, N.J. "A few sloppy results will cause clients to move on. And loss of clients affects everyone’s paycheck."

"This is really a skill-set issue and lack-of-management issue," O’Brien observes. "You have to learn to work with others and set expectations."

Can’t let go? It might help to take a good, long look in the mirror. "Part of it is delegation, but part of it is ego," says Allgeier. "It says, ‘I feel better about me if I’m pleasing everyone.’"

Ultimately, that could send you to the unemployment line. "The person wants all the glory because they think they are the only one who can do the job correctly," O’Brien says. "In reality, every person is replaceable, right up to the CEO."

Of course sometimes, a manager’s fears about delegating are legitimate. "A person may feel they need to do the work because the person they rely on does inferior work," O’Brien acknowledges. "If that’s the case, the weak link should be dealt with by providing additional training to bring him or her up to speed."

If it turns out the weak link is, well, you, it’s time to acquire some new skills. "Delegation is definitely a learned skill," observes Allgeier. "Think in terms of letting go, a little bit at a time. Whenever you have an opportunity to break off a little piece of a project that someone on your team is perfectly capable of doing – do it."

Amy Rauch Neilson is a business writer based in Belleville, Mich.