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Learning to Let Go

One of the hardest tasks for any leader to master is the art of letting go.

When is the right time to turn something over to someone else?

Which tasks should be passed along?

How much feedback and oversight should you provide?

None of these answers come easily, and yet, letting go is essential for anyone looking to get to the next level, or to lead teams that reach their full potential.

Instinctively, we all seem to know this to be true. We know that we can’t take on additional responsibilities unless we let go of some of the things we’re currently doing. We know we can’t learn new things, find our own space for growth, or have the capacity for strategic thinking unless we free up time and energy that is currently spent doing something else.

Leaders who fully embrace the art of letting go, however, reap clear benefits. They have the freedom to constantly learn and try new things. They have the space in their schedules to think in different, and often more strategic, ways. They relish the margin that allows them to avoid burnout – small indulgences like evenings, weekends, and vacations spent with family or friends or pursuing hobbies and interests outside the office.

It’s not just the leaders themselves who flourish, however. Their teams benefit from being fully developed, pushed beyond their comfort zone to take on growing responsibilities and challenges for themselves. Members of these teams find the freedom and confidence that comes with having their leadership really trust them. They are engaged in the vision and driven to produce results out of a sense of accomplishment and pride.

Even when we know the benefits, letting go isn’t easy.

Most of us are used to being in the driver’s seat, relying on our own abilities and talents to reach our goals. Letting go requires that we loosen our own grip on the controls and trust other people. It means we have to build the kind of relationships with our team that allow us to know what they can accomplish, and where they can grow. It requires us to be committed to investing in their growth and development in meaningful ways.

Letting go also means that we have to develop new skills. We have to build our own skills so that we give clear directions, set expectations, and manage in a way that hits the sweet spot between micromanaging and leaving our people to sink or swim on their own. It means we need systems and processes for oversight, and the willingness to provide honest and timely feedback when expectations aren’t met.

Even when we trust our teams, even when we understand the nuts and bolts of delegation, we can still struggle to turn over the reins. Why? Letting go makes us feel vulnerable in some surprising ways. It challenges our notions that we have to do it all to be successful. Depending on the culture of our organization, we may worry that if we aren’t doing it, we might seem unnecessary.

Letting go is a challenge for most leaders at one time or another. If you find yourself struggling to get it all done, it may be time to turn over some of the load to someone else. Take a minute and ask yourself where you might need to let go. You might just become more effective as a result.