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Sam Davidson's blog

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A Thought on Leadership: Delegation

I had the unique and esteemed pleasure to keynote last night at Vanderbilt University's Service Leadership Conference. This three-day retreat is put on by the Office of Active Citizenship and Service and is for student leaders who oversee campus service organizations.

I was simply asked to speak about leadership. And, while my keynote time focused on the idea that leadership is a process, rather than a plan, and that leadership isn't something you do, it's also something you are, I also led a small group discussion about leadership.

About 30 presidents and vice presidents of various organizations were in the room to hear me talk about leadership and to share ideas and tools for leading others. Wanting to make sure that these students gained what they needed from our 45 minutes together, I asked them what their leadership struggles, concerns and problems were.

Then, we unpacked those issues, and I shared from my own experience, as a student leader in college, as a leader in the hotel world after college, as someone who taught high school students about leadership after that, and now as someone who leads CoolPeopleCare.

Over the next few weeks, I'll share some thoughts and rambles about leadership, drawn from last night's conversation. By all means: weigh in on this in the comments. Leadership is meant to be a dialog, so I'd love to hear your thoughts on each topic.

Leadership Issue #1: Delegation

For whatever reason, I delegate like a champ. If something Herculean needs to be done, and needs to be broken down into smaller parts to be realized, I think I'm pretty good at defining those parts and then dispatching people (hopefully the right ones) to complete the various tasks to get it done.

A student last night was concerned about delegation. His questions were ones like, "What happens if you delegate something and the person doesn't do it right?" "What if someone doesn't want to do what they're assigned?" "What should be delegated?"

What I've learned about delegation is this: If you love to do it, or are very good at it, don't delegate it.

This is why Craig Newmark doesn't run Craig's List and instead is a customer service rep. That's what he enjoys doing. He doesn't enjoy (and may not be good at) crunching numbers, striking deals and strategic execution. So, he delegates those tasks to a CEO and other such personnel.

Maybe you're great at spreadsheets or wonderful at speaking to groups. Maybe you like to write memos or sort paperclips. Maybe you enjoy casting a vision and have a knack for dreaming big. Whatever it is you excel in, that's what you should keep doing. (A big part of leadership then, is making sure that you've got the right team in place, which I'll discuss at a later point.)

But, if you're trying to decide who should do what and what should be delegated, give everyone authority over their own strengths and talents. Then, see what's left and divvy up responsibilities accordingly, and even allow for co-ownership of some tasks. That makes the things that no one likes to do a little bit more acceptable. For example, I may not like taking out the trash or cleaning the floors or setting up chairs, but if I know that my entire leadership team shares such unpleasant tasks with me, I'm happy to pitch in and do my part for the team.

Tell me: What do you delegate? How do you decide? Have you ever delegated something only to take it back later?