The changing role of Executive Assistants and Secretaries reflects the dominance of the keyboard and a DIY approach to work content creation by leaders. Once upon a time, the majority of boss content output was produced by others, a magical time of delegation ruling the world. The secretarial pool only lives in the memory of the few or has been briefly glimpsed in black and white movies. We replaced the system, but as leaders have we really fully adjusted to the change?
We are more "efficient" because brigades of women (and they were all women), have been liberated from the boredom of typing out the boss’s work. Today the boss is the one typing content into a computer keyboard, usually destined to appear in an email, a word document, a powerpoint slide or a spreadsheet. The modern normalisation of the sheer volume of communication ensures the secretarial function is only going to be there for the very upper echelons of large organisations.
The DIY outcome has had a negative knock-on effect, where leaders who should be delegating, have gotten out of the habit and do work they should be delegating to their staff. The delegation muscle has atrophied and become flabby.
Find some handy blunt object and apply it vigorously to your own head if you have ever said, "It will be faster if I do it myself". We all do it, because we are lazy and disorganised. Lazy because we won’t make the effort to set ourselves up for long term success by developing our team members, so that they can step up and take on a higher role. Disorganised because our time management skills are poor and we are unable to schedule the necessary time for the delegation steps, which ultimately will make the process work so well. We are often too busy doing "today" to be able to consider "future" efficiency
Worse than that, we have dangerous self-talk such as, "delegation doesn’t work". Well, it does work but not if we do it in some half-baked fashion, missing vital inputs and steps. We have the "don’t delegate enough" leader disease, but we are no longer noticing the symptoms, because it has become the new normal to do it by yourself.
Let’s take a reality check here and see how we score on some simple questions:
1. Do you work out details others could handle?
2. Do you keep your hands on too many projects?
3. Do you find yourself rushing to meet deadlines?
4. Do you work longer hours than other managers and do so on a regular basis?
5. Do you spend your time doing tasks for others that they could do themselves?
6. Do you become involved in working on projects you thought you had given to others?
If we answered "Yes" to all or a majority of those questions, it is time to think carefully about what type of work future we want? Would we be better placed to be spending our days concentrating on doing high value tasks that only we can do? Do we want to stay right where we are now because the organization can’t promote us? They can’t move us because there is no logical successor to replace us and we are invaluable in the current role.
When we sit back and evaluate what we actually do all day, everyday, how much of our work-life is being spent on quality time and how much on low value tasks? If the high quality tasks are an infinitesimally small portion of our total work day, what does that tell us about our actual productivity and the potential we have to do a lot better?
Forest and trees get confused when we are too busy just doing. We need time for thinking, for imagining, for getting above the foliage canopy and glimpsing into the future. Our inability to delegate is holding us down in our careers or damaging our businesses. Without realising it, we have become the blocker to progress because we are too busy and too DIY oriented. It is time to reach for that blunt object and knock some sense into our heads about the importance of being able to delegate successfully.
1. Take the survey questions and really evaluate the consequences of the answers carefully
2. Ask yourself about your short-term versus long-term work balance
3. Question why you are doing tasks that you shouldn’t be doing
4. Look for delegation opportunities and make the time to do them properly
5. Never forget time is life and carefully check how you are spending it