“How do I delegate at home and work without feeling guilty?” – READER QUESTION submitted by Charmaine M.
When my eldest son was born, I continued working from home. He wasn’t one of those easy-going, take anywhere type babies so I could only be at my desk when he was asleep. No siree!
It often took a long time to get him to sleep and then he’d only sleep 45 minutes, so I found it difficult to get any flow. Sometimes I’d get to the end of the day feeling dizzy. It was a merry-go-round of bedroom, desk, bedroom, desk, bedroom, desk.
To call it frustrating would be an understatement. It was taking me all week to get an average day’s work done. It was like rolling a massive boulder up a steep hill. Wearing a wetsuit. And covered in lube.
Until one day when my mother intervened. She saw that I needed to work AND that I needed to mind my son. And by “need” I mean I wasn’t psychologically prepared to loosen my grip on either of those things in that moment.
“This can’t go on. I can look after him. Trust me.”
And yet I resisted.
I felt guilty about imposing on her. About not managing my responsibilities. About putting her under pressure. I desperately wanted her help, but I was slow to embrace it. Like a cautious bird hopping around the perimeter trying to find a safe way in to reach some water.
“Are you sure? You don’t mind? Really?”
A dismissive wave and she moved on to something else. Like sewing a last-minute Anne of Green Gable’s outfit for my niece. This woman could teach the Stoics a thing or two.
I won’t pretend it was all smooth sailing. But I handed over my son, the world didn’t end, and a grandmother and grandson became besties.
When we’re overwhelmed, doing too much or frazzled – we can’t always rely on somebody noticing and stepping in. A lot of the time, we have to notice and do that for ourselves.
Delegation doesn’t always come naturally. And it certainly doesn’t always come comfortably. Accepting help can be challenging.
For many people, delegating is a hard-earned skill. Developed out of necessity and survival when they realise that they really can’t “do it all”.
If you’re in a leadership position, at work, or at home, it’s likely that you will have to delegate. The more people who rely on you, the more critical it becomes.
Want to know what a recent coaching survey by Stanford University revealed? That 35% of CEOs believed they needed to develop their delegation skills.
Why is it so difficult? Why aren’t we just handing over all our work and rubbing our hands in glee?
Some people find it hard to relinquish control. Some don’t trust others to do a decent job. Some just feel plain guilty about doing it. In your question, you wrote you feel guilty about it, so we’ll focus on that.
What are some reasons you might be feeling guilty?
- You believe that you need to “do it all”
- You feel like you’re burdening other people
- You’re afraid it reflects badly on you
- You’re concerned it might make people unhappy
- You might create more stress for somebody else
- You feel like you’re unloading things that are your responsibility
Some or none of these may be true for you. Pause for a minute and try to discover what it is that YOU feel guilty about. Reflecting will help you understand what you’re working with.
The purpose of guilt is to alert us to when we have done or said something that caused harm. But sometimes we experience this emotion when there is no harm, or the harm is imagined. Not every emotion is a rational one and in this case, I don’t think your guilt is alerting you to real harm you are causing.
I suspect that your feelings of guilt might be a warning signal to you of one of the following:
- Expectations you have of yourself, however unrealistic
- A negative view of what “delegating” means
- Concern about how other people will take it
- A level of discomfort asking for what you need
Many first time mothers feel guilty about leaving their baby when they do it for the very first time. A wave of emotion washes over them and gives them pause. Even though they need a break AND their baby is being cared for responsibly. Guilt bubbles up and can cast a shadow on their decision. It feels like A REALLY BIG DEAL.
Sometimes our emotions have no rational purpose. That’s when we need a reminder to be realistic. “It will be fine. Trust me.”
Be discerning about how quickly you buy into feelings of guilt. More so if you are especially guilt-prone.
For you, go back to your feelings of guilt and decide whether delegating is actually going to cause harm. Search for evidence (or an objective opinion) about the impact delegating would have. Then reassess whether the feeling of guilt stays with you or not. Ask yourself, how realistic is it?
And if it’s NOT realistic, choose to act in spite of it. You can have the guilty feeling, and delegate anyway. That really is ok.
You can’t stop yourself having the emotion, but you can choose not to let the emotion have you. Let it move through you. It won’t last long.
Another thing you might find useful is to consider what delegating means to you. Is your current view more deficit-focused? For example – do you think delegating is a hassle, hard work, ineffective or stressful? If so, try reframing your view to look for the benefits and opportunities it will create.
What would delegating give you?
- Save you several hours a week in the long-term
- Time to focus on higher value work
- A growing pool of resources
- Improved effectiveness and productivity
- Stronger relationships
- Well needed practice at being proactive or communicating your needs
What might delegating give others?
- An exciting development opportunity
- A chance to use their strengths
- A sense of ownership
- Confidence that you trust them
- Feel needed and appreciated
Many times, the person taking on the delegated tasks receive benefits and opportunities. Especially if you manage to delegate in a way that meets their basic psychological needs.
How? Give them a sense of choice and freedom about how they complete a task (autonomy). An opportunity to be useful (competence). And prioritise your relationship and connection (relatedness). The more you can do to make the task or work intrinsically motivating for a person, the better it will be.
The unintended effect of mother minding my son each week is the fantastic bond the two of them developed. He cries for her when upset, talks about her a lot, and bounces off the walls every week when he knows it’s “Ma Day”. It’s an extraordinary thing to witness and may not have happened had the situation had been different. It turns out those two were made for each other. Who would have guessed it?
You may find it confronting as you start to flex your delegating muscles, but it will get easier. You will learn how to navigate your feelings of guilt, and when to move forward and act regardless.
If the guilt hangs around even after you challenge it with some realistic thinking? You might find it useful to practice some self-compassion exercises.
The last thing you need when you have too much responsibility is to give yourself a hard time about it. Ease up, and look after yourself.
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