Delegate without apology
When I worked at Mailchimp I ran a manager training program and on the first day of each new session, our cofounder Dan Kurzius would kick things off.
Ostensibly the talk was meant to stress the importance of the program and to motivate participants to give it their full attention and effort. In reality it was about whatever Dan wanted to talk about that day. (I was fine with this—when the company you started is worth $12 billion this is how it works.)
The talks were always great—Dan is soft spoken and prone to meandering—but he speaks from the heart and knows how to captivate an audience. And yet, I don’t recall much of what he had to say in those sessions as I was usually nervously focused on the training I was about to deliver.
One day though, he shared a piece of advice that stuck with me:
Always delegate without apology.
For awhile I misinterpreted this. I thought he meant that once you reach a certain stature (like say, a middle manager at a hip tech company), your time is more valuable than mere mortals and you shouldn’t feel bad about finding someone else to do your low-value, menial tasks.
“I’m more important than you—sorry not sorry!”
Kinda harsh, but okay Dan, if you say so.
Not long after this talk though, the real meaning of his point was driven home when I accidentally did precisely what he said not to do.
During a routine one-on-one with a direct report, I began rattling off a few things I needed her to do. At some point I said something like, “I’m sorry to dump this crap work on you, but I’m slammed right now. I know it sucks, but I really appreciate the help.”
As I stammered on apologetically she interrupted me:
“I’d appreciate it if you’d stop apologizing when you give me work like this. I was excited about doing it until you called it crap.”
She’d never done this work before and was looking forward to the opportunity to add value while trying something new. That is, until I convinced her it was worthless.
The idea of delegating without apology is not for your benefit. It’s not meant to make you feel better; it’s meant to empower the person you are delegating to.
Apologizing while delegating signals that you’re doing something wrong. It says, "I'm sorry to burden you with this thing I don’t want to do."
Effective delegation says, "I trust you to handle this because I believe in your capabilities."
When you delegate without apology, you’re not just passing on tasks.
You're passing on trust.