Delegation, Delegation, Delegation!

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Sue France explains how to persuade and influence your manager to pass work on

No matter how much you enjoy your job, there will come a time when you need a new challenge and more responsibility. However, sometimes bosses are reluctant to delegate enough work to keep their assistants busy and free from boredom. Sometimes they are simply reluctant to let go of work that assistants are well capable of performing which bosses simply don’t need to spend their precious time on.

There are several reasons why bosses don’t want to pass on work to you, so let’s consider some reasons here and I want you to think about your own situation and why your boss may not want to relinquish work to you. We will also consider what you can do to influence and persuade your boss to pass on work resulting in a better and more productive environment for all concerned.

What are the reasons that bosses don’t want to pass on work?

Whenever we are problem solving we should think of all the reasons that could be causing the problem without dismissing any idea – no matter how crazy it may sound as one idea can lead on to another and it may be the right reason even if you don’t think it could be.

  • Bosses have different management styles and maybe your boss is what I term a “Controller boss” – the boss who never likes to let go of anything or if they do they are at your desk all the time checking on you, giving you the feeling that they don’t trust you to get on with the work and produce the goods on time, accurately and efficiently.
  • It’s possible they feel they don’t have enough work to do themselves (although I feel this is highly unlikely in these lean times where management is flatter and work is spread amongst the remaining employees). But it still remains a possible reason and as stated above, it is something we should consider and not dismiss. If this reason is correct then your boss will be aiming to look busy in front of their boss!
  • Consider different work styles – maybe they have asked you to do something in the past and it does not suit the way they like it done. For example, they may ask you to produce a report which you did efficiently, accurately and on time but what you gave them is not what they expected. For example, you give them a “big picture” overview of one page with bullet points on it whereas they may be “detailed people” and expect a five-page report written in minute detail, or vice versa.
  • They may feel inadequate, unable to delegate and possibly lacking confidence in themselves to give you correct instructions. They may think it’s quicker to do it themselves so they then know it’s done right, the way they like it and on time, or simply just lack effective delegation skills.
  • It may be because they don’t trust you to do the job well – for whatever reason and there could be several reasons for this – only you will know what it is so be honest with yourself. Some bosses are perfectionists who feel it’s easier to do everything themselves, or that their work is better than others.
  • They may feel they don’t have the time to sit down and explain the task to you properly, in the detail it requires and then monitor, support and guide you as well as protect you should anything go wrong.
  • It is a possibility that they don’t realise you want more responsibility and are keen to take on more work or project work to alleviate the workload of the boss.
  • Maybe they have given you work before and were not happy with the quality you produced and possibly never explained this to you, or perhaps they did explain it and simply don’t want to try again.
  • Some bosses may believe that passing on work will detract from their own importance, while others lack self-confidence and don’t want to be upstaged by anyone.
  • Maybe they are making assumptions and think if it’s not in your job description then you do not want to do it.

Remember we all perceive things differently and no one is exactly alike in how we think or perceive people and situations as we are all affected differently by our upbringing, the people we work with now and in the past, our education, culture and life. We also often see ourselves differently to how others see or perceive us.

What are the benefits of enticing bosses to pass on more work to you?

As well as keeping the assistant busy, practicing and increasing skill sets, the added responsibility of project work may even raise the assistant’s profile and have the benefit of making their job more interesting, worthwhile and possibly result in self-actualization (the highest status in Maslow’s motivational theory of hierarchy of needs). It will also free the boss to work on matters that the assistant isn’t qualified to do and enable the boss to spend more time in reaching their goals and the aims of the organization as well as result in an improved trusting and working relationship between the assistant and boss. It could be a step towards advancing an admin career.

So what can the assistant do to persuade and influence the boss to pass the work on to them?

Constant ongoing communication is key to really understanding each other, the way you think and your needs and wants. This, in turn, helps build relationships and trust between you. One communication tool that would be useful to help you understand yourself and others is “The Johari Window” model used for illustrating and improving self-awareness, and mutual understanding between individuals based on disclosure, self-disclosure and feedback.

The word “Johari” comes from the names of the creators of The Johari Window model Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham.

There are two key ideas behind the tool:

1.Individuals can build trust with others by disclosing information about themselves.

2.They can learn about themselves and come to terms with personal issues with the help of feedback from others.

The Johari Window actually represents information – feelings, experience, views, attitudes, skills, intentions, motivation etc – within or about a person in relation to their relationships, from four perspectives, which are described below.

The Johari Window model consists of a four-square grid. Each of the four areas contains and represents personal information – feelings, motivation, etc. – about the person, and shows whether the information is known or not known by themselves or other people.

The four quadrants are:

Quadrant 1: Open Area

What is known by the person about him/herself and is also known by others.

Quadrant 2: Blind Area

What is unknown by the person about him/herself but which others know. This can be simple information, or can involve deep issues (for example, feelings of inadequacy, incompetence, unworthiness, rejection) which are difficult for individuals to face directly, and yet can be seen by others.

Quadrant 3: Hidden or Avoided Area

What the person knows about him/herself that others do not.

Quadrant 4: Unknown Area

What is unknown by the person about him/herself and is also unknown by others.
The process of enlarging the open area is called self-disclosure, a “give and take” process between the person and the people he/she interacts with.

Individuals should always be striving to increase their “Open areas” and to reduce their “blind”, “hidden” and “unknown” areas. As information is shared, the hidden area gets smaller. And as other people reciprocate, trust tends to build. The process of enlarging the “Open area” is through feedback where the individual learns about him/herself that others can see, but he or she cannot see.

I have explained this model to simply help and empower you to properly understand yourself and other people and in particular your boss, the perceptions of yourself and others and to incorporate the underlying principles into your future thinking and behaviour. Done sensitively, this can help people build more trusting relationships with one another, solve issues and work more effectively as a team (boss and assistant) knowing and understanding each other’s needs and wants.

Word of warning: Be careful what you decide to disclose about yourself, done correctly it can build trust, however, disclosing information which could damage respect for you can put you in a position of weakness. Also be tactful in the way you give feedback. Some cultures and people have a very open and accepting approach to feedback and others do not. Be sensitive and start gradually and get to know your boss better and for them to know you better – build the trust and let them know how and why you are thinking the way you do. Let them know the reasons you want to take on more work – be honest.

Apart from open and ongoing honest communication here are other suggestions to help take more work and responsibility from your boss.

  • Complete a piece of work without their permission (in draft of course) making sure you have checked it and produced excellent quality work and present it for their review before they actually need it (in case it needs changing) and show them what you are capable of. It’s a matter of being proactive, thinking ahead, delivering on time and if they are a controller boss to be feeding back details constantly on where you are up to until the boss can wholly trust that you will do the work in the way they want it done.
  • Create a “work schedule” on either word or excel showing where you are up to with all your work which can be viewed by both parties. You can include the work of the other people you work for so at a glance it can be seen what you are working on, whether you have completed it, whether you are awaiting any information or for other people to get back to you. Also in my experience the bosses are likely to complete the section of missing information if they are able to. It would also help you explain to your boss if you have spare time to fill and help you make your case to be given more responsibility/work/projects.
  • Another tip to get work from the boss is to approach them, at the right time, and say you are keen to learn and develop your skills to help them in their work. Ask for any development or training the boss may think the assistant needs in order for them to help them in any part of their work and to help free up some of their time so they can get on with other important work.
  • Assistants should endeavour to find out what the weaknesses are of their boss and make these weaknesses their strength to complement their boss’s skills. Similarly, examine your boss’s work style and adjust to that style so that you are giving them what they want in the way they want it.
  • If the problem is that the boss is inadequate in delegating properly then the assistant can help them to delegate effectively by asking the right questions.
  • Impress your boss with your knowledge about the industry you work in by learning as much as you can about your industry and organisation and the challenges it faces. Join relevant online groups and communities, read industry magazines, conduct Internet research, put key words into Google+ so that up-to-date information is being sent to your email as soon as, for example, your company is written about. You can impress your boss by thinking strategically and what may be affecting your organisation. Remember to use PESTLE (Political, Economic, Social, Technology and Environment) when thinking strategically. If you’re seen to be reading the right kind of material in your spare time it will definitely impress and improve your knowledge and you may be able to see where and how you can add value.
  • Remember to contribute plenty of ideas and be attentive, always listen and realise where you can help. Being supportive of others is a sign that you are ready to take on more responsibility. Always make sure that you continue to do the core parts of your job extremely well so that your boss will be confident in your abilities and know you are ready to take on more.
  • Your hard work and efforts can easily be overlooked, even if you consistently work hard. If this happens to you, it’s up to you to get noticed and stay in their thoughts so you can keep moving toward your career goals. Become a specialist in areas that are important to your boss. Build a network of allies, network inside and outside of work and track your accomplishments.

Finally remember to take the initiative, be assertive and have a positive “can do/will do” attitude and be friendly and respectful to your boss. Start each morning by asking if there’s anything he or she particularly wants you to do that day. Be prepared to work late if the project demands it (keeping a work/life balance in mind) and remember to continually be open and honest in your communication. Remember that neither you nor your boss can read minds!

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About Author

Sue France

Sue France FCIPD FInstAM INLPTA Trainer, coach and conference Chairperson, Neuroscience enthusiast. Creator of the ‘Workation’ training. Author of award winning “The Definitive Executive Assistant & Managerial Handbook” and “The Definitive Personal Assistant & Secretarial Handbook 3rd edition. Qualified FCIPD Learning & Development Practitioner and coach, Certified Neuro Linguistic Programming Master Practitioner, The UK Times Crème/DHL PA of the Year 2006, Certified TetraMap® Facilitator, Editorial board member of ‘Executive Secretary’ magazine. Contact Sue at [email protected] or call +44 (0) 7747 118914

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