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calculatorBecause I am self employed, I don’t have a lot of experience with delegation. I’m trying to get better at it, using paid assistance for work and home stuff, but I’m not an expert.

I’m mentoring some younger members of the Junior League of Chicago, and one issue that they all noted was that people flake on their volunteer commitments. What could they do about it? I have no direct advice, so I did a little on=line research.

First, a quick Google search on the topic turned up a ton of sites offering men advice on dating women. Apparently, men who read dating advice sites think that women are flaky. Beyond that, it seems to be a topic that a lot of people blog about, because it’s so darn common.

People flake for three reasons. One is that they don’t want to say no – they don’t want to disappoint you. This is a problem in volunteer situations, where everyone wants to be nice and helpful even if they really don’t know what to do. The second is that they over-commit their time and end up setting their priorities later rather than earlier. This is something I have a tendency to do and am working hard to stop.

The third is that they are pulling a passive-aggressive power play, especially if they are able to commit to things that are important to them but not things that are important to you. I can think of a few people who do this, but it seems like less of an issue in a volunteer setting. Or maybe not?
Anyway, I found two different articles about delegation that are worth reading. Both have some ideas for how to delegate and share work while reducing the risk of flakiness. A key part is explaining to people what you want done and giving them the resources to do it, often in the form of very specific information. The first article is a Harvard Leadership Newsletter article on how to delegate.
The second is a 40-year-old Harvard Business Review article on delegation that is apparently the most-requested reprint in the HBR archives. It’s a little dated, but it captures the problem: managers often take over a problem instead of helping someone else solve it. If managers can learn to leave the problem with staffers – along with information on how to solve it – then everyone will be better off.
It’s hard to let go, and it’s even worse to let go and then find that whatever it is doesn’t get done. I have flaked, and I have had people flake on me. I know that I want to do better, and I suspect that a lot of the flakes want to do better, too. Now I have some advice. And you do, too.