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How Women Leaders Can Empower Others – and Themselves – by Delegating

April 26, 2023 Deana LaFauci

According to a new Linkage research survey, 66% of women say they are a “perfectionist” in how they approach work. And, 81% of women report that they say “yes” to all work requests, even unreasonable ones.

Why is that bad?

Women leaders tend to take on more in the workplace, volunteer for high-profile projects, and continually add to their role to demonstrate their value as they ascend the leadership ranks. But by “over-rowing the boat”—focusing on doing things perfectly, overseeing every detail, and trying to do it all—women tend to adopt practices that hold them back in their roles and their careers.

“Women have been over-rowing the boat since the beginning of time. Our Inner Critic and perfectionism push us to manage every detail, both at work and at home, and cause us to feel that we need to do it all,” said Katharine Panessidi, AVP of the Advancing Women Leaders practice at Linkage, a SHRM company. “That is simply not sustainable, and we know these behaviors directly contribute to burnout in women, opt-downs and opt-outs, and potentially career stagnation as these behaviors prevent women from stepping into higher-level, strategic work.”

Burnout, stress and mental health are still causes of concern for women, and organizations continue to see a drop-off in promotion rates for women. According to Deloitte’s 2023 Women@Work research, 51% of women report higher stress levels than they did a year ago. And the broken rung remains broken. For every 100 men promoted to manager, only 87 women are promoted and only 82 women of color are promoted (McKinsey’s 2022 Women in the Workplace Report).

But how do you stop “over-rowing the boat”? Women leaders must shift from doing it all to influencing, equipping and enabling others. Moving beyond self-reliance, women leaders can prove their value through multiplying—inspiring and empowering those around them.

Carla Harris, co-chair of Linkage’s Women in Leadership Institute, exceptional WIL keynote speaker, and Legend in Leadership award recipient, offers these “pearls of wisdom” in how to delegate: “The way you amplify your value in your organization isn’t to execute more—it’s to empower people. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. Resist the temptation to continue to execute. It’s not about who you used to be.” Carla, who is Vice Chairman, Managing Director and Senior Client Advisor at Morgan Stanley, emphasizes “the real way to grow your power is to give it away.”

Begin with identifying instances of perfectionism in your life—work and outside work—and identify ways to let go control of and leave behind work that doesn’t serve you anymore. Release the urge to micromanage, and make sure that the tasks you focus on in your day-to-day activities are where you can make the most difference, including tasks where you act as an advisor or subject matter expert. Then, identify the work where your expertise or talents are not required. Delegate this work to others, which not only empowers you but also empowers them and fosters their growth and development. Get comfortable giving others the reins so that they can experience a learning opportunity.

Putting Practice into Action: How to Start Delegating to Unlock Your Full Potential

Here’s one quick activity you can do to start delegating. Take five minutes and make a list of all the tasks you did the previous business day. Rank those in order of importance, starting with the tasks that bring out your unique strengths, add value to your organization, and contribute to proving your value as a leader. Take a look at the tasks near the bottom of the list—activities where your expertise is not needed and that do not demonstrate your value—and choose one to delegate to someone else. Letting go of things frees up time for work activities that showcase our superpowers, and it gives others the chance to grow and develop.

Linkage, a SHRM company, empowers women to scale the hurdles to advancement and realize their full potential, and partners with leading organizations to equip their leaders with the insights and skills they need to drive impact.

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Women in Leadership Institute

NOV. 13–16, 2023 | Orlando, Florida, or Virtual
A 4-day immersive learning experience designed to equip women leaders with actionable strategies to overcome the hurdles women often face in the workplace.

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