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4 Minute Read

Giving It Up: Stephen Covey Discusses Delegation

4 Minute Read

His last name is synonymous with good business. And like his dad, Stephen M.R. Covey has been knocking it out of the park too. The author of several best-sellers, including his latest, The Speed of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything, joined EntreLeadership podcast host Chris LoCurto to discuss this week’s theme: delegation. Here’s an excerpt from their conversation.

Chris: Do you believe that delegation is one of the most misunderstood and abused areas of leadership?

Covey: Absolutely. There are so many entrepreneurs out there who are talented, capable and make things happen, but they don’t know how to delegate. It’s sad because the great strength of delegation is that we can accomplish so much more. It allows us to multiply ourselves and increase leverage to grow our businesses beyond our own individual capacities.
It does take some trust to be able to delegate, and that trust needs to be wisely placed. If we delegate responsibilities to people who aren’t capable of handling them, the outcome may not turn out the way we want it.

When you give trust in the form of delegation, it’s amazing how people respond. They’ll rise to the occasion. It brings out the best in people, and they perform well.

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Chris: When you are the person who is being trusted, I think it changes how you are able to do your work. Would you agree?

Covey: Nothing engages someone like having trust placed in them. They want to prove the trust is justified and rise to the occasion. There may be a few out there who might abuse it, but the vast, vast majority respond to it. Trust motivates and inspires them. I like to put it this way: Trust is the most compelling form of human motivation, and delegation is a practice that demonstrates trust.

Chris: How does trust play a role in a good company becoming great?

Covey: What really creates a great place to work, a great environment and a great culture is mutual trust. Twenty-five years of research from the Great Place to Work Institute shows it is the number one factor. It engages and energizes people. They are clear on the expectations. They perform and deliver.

With a culture of trust, you don’t need all those excessive policies and procedures. The culture becomes the reinforcer. If someone gets out of line, the culture brings them back in line or weeds them out.

Look at Nordstrom, the retailer, as an example. They operate on high trust and delegate extensively to their people. Their employee handbook is very simple. In fact, it’s a single card. On that card, it says, “Welcome to Nordstrom. We are glad to have you at our company. Our employee handbook is very simple. We have only one rule: Use good judgment in all situations. There will be no other rules.”

Now that’s an extraordinary expression of trust in their people and a great form of delegation. Remember, though, they didn’t just arrive at this. They deliberately built a high-trust culture through hiring, training, recruiting, mentoring, etc. Now they don’t need a lot of rules.

It’s really a phenomenal thing. They get better results with the customers and their people internally. And the results translate into better economics.

Chris: What are some of the biggest delegation mistakes you see leaders make?

Covey: First, it’s delegating specific activities instead of the end result. Sometimes that’s okay if it’s a basic level of delegation. But if it is someone who you’re bringing on to be a contributor in powerful, unique ways, then it’s far better to delegate results. For example, “Here’s what we are doing, here’s what we’re after. I want you to get the sale,” instead of, “Follow up on those leads.

Another mistake is making your expectations unclear. When people aren’t quite sure what it is they are trying to do, the outcome they are striving for, and how they are going to be accountable for it, they’re not motivated or inspired.

Download the newest EntreLeadership podcast to hear the rest of Chris and Stephen’s discussion on delegation.

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