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Forget Delegating, Try This Instead

By David Shriner-Cahn

It’s no secret that managers of non-profits want more time to devote to tasks that require a manager’s attention. They fight this fire every day, most often by delegating responsibilities to other members of their staff.

Sometimes the solution works. Sometimes it doesn’t.

Leaders find they’re just as swamped with work as they always were. New problems pop up. New fires need extinguishing. The real truth is that delegating, as a tactic, is doomed from the start.

Here’s what you should do instead.

Stop Working Piecemeal

The dictionary defines delegating as the “assignment of authority and responsibility to another person (in this case from a manager to a subordinate) to carry out specific activities.”

This definition, like most definitions of delegating, leaves out an important component of business: the web. (No, not the Web. I’m talking about an actual web.)

It leaves out the fact that an organization is a living, breathing thing. It has interconnectivity. And that intricate web means something very specific.

Build a Community

At its core, the web of your non-profit organization is really a community.

Communities are built around common interests, goals, and pursuits. Organizations are built around these same concepts, just with the added purpose of creating value. What an organization promises to its clients and stakeholders – its value proposition – stems directly from its core principle.

So why not build a community around your organization’s mission?

If a community is anything, it’s a force that’s greater than the sum of its parts. Leaders achieve this through engagement. A recent Gallup study of employee engagement found that “employee engagement continues to be an important predictor of company performance even in a tough economy.”

If you give important tasks to people who are engaged, the work they produce will reflect their inspiration to support the core mission.

If not, well, they could be part of the 18 percent of employees that “actively disengage” – that is, they slack off on purpose or, worse, sabotage the organization. According to Forbes, those disengaged workers are estimated to cost the U.S. some $500 billion a year in absenteeism, lost productivity, and turnover rates.

Basically, you can’t afford not to keep employees engaged.

Putting the Pieces Together

Community building isn’t complex, although it isn’t necessarily easy either.

Non-profit leaders need to encourage interaction. They need to show happiness and enthusiasm when they’re around their team, and celebrate their successes.

They also need to maintain a sense of accountability, both in themselves and in their team members. Leaders must keep engagement high while at the same time ensuring plans are seen to their appropriate ends.

Importantly, learn from the results of these actions. And when sufficient information about weak spots has been gathered, improve. Then rinse and repeat. Your non-profit workforce will thank you.


David Shriner-Cahn

David is President of TEND Strategic Partners, organizing and operating facilitated peer support groups for service organizations, entrepreneurs, and other professionals that want to improve strategic decision-making and implement changes to propel their organizations forward.

David is also the host of the business podcast, Smashing the Plateau, featuring leaders helping leaders break through barriers in business and in life.