Half Full? My Cup Runneth Over!
Brianna Johnson

Think of somebody you know who is always “so busy!” that they often seem to be spinning their wheels, lost in a state of less-than-efficient overwhelm. Or on the other hand, maybe that person is actually producing great results while being so busy, but is starting work earlier and leaving later than everyone else in the firm in order to do so. Maybe it’s someone you work with closely, or whom you work for. Maybe it’s you.

Whomever it is, the behavior of owner-owning and over-doing (even hoarding!) is one that we try to help clients mitigate. We’re all guilty of it at some point in our lives and in specific situations, too. As we acquire higher levels of responsibility throughout our careers, it’s especially easy to fall into this behavior pattern.

Over-owning, over-doing creates numerous issues:

  • We are likely doing work that isn’t at our highest and best use, and should be delegated down
  • And, when we don’t delegate work to our staff means we’re not developing their skills
  • And, not developing our staff’s skills and setting them up for success causes us to hinder our firm’s succession because we aren’t preparing our up-and-comers for elevated responsibility and leadership roles

Besides these firm-centric issues, it doesn’t reflect well for the over-owner, over-doer either:

  • Over-owning and over-doing seems like we’re hogging work and it can be perceived as selfish or arrogant
  • If we’re often heard complaining about our long list of to-do items and the list never seems to get shorter, others get annoyed and start to tune us out
    • Some people will start to think that we actually like being “victimized” by how much stuff is on our plate at any given time!

We become over-owners, over-doers for a variety of reasons. It can happen when we’re promoted and are in the (sometimes slow) process of transitioning responsibilities. If we’re short-staffed, that often forces us to become over-owners, over-doers. Or worst of all, we might have the resources to delegate to, but don’t. We teach a course called “Overcoming the Seven Deadly Sins of Delegation” where we explore seven common reasons that we simply don’t delegate. Let’s navigate a couple of the big “sins” and discuss how we can become better delegators and lose the label of over-owner, over-doer:

  • I don’t delegate as much as I could because our people aren’t ready for that type of work yet. We hear this often, but don’t fall into this mindset. Young professionals want to progress, learn more and do more. They want to be challenged in their workplace and keep setting a higher bar for themselves. The delegated responsibility doesn’t have to be mammoth either. Determine which pieces you can delegate and increase the level of responsibility with each repetition of the task. You’ll likely be surprised by how quickly your people become more than ready for the work.
  • I don’t delegate that often because the quality of work I get back is usually below my expectations. Many times this can be solved by setting specific expectations up front and communicating openly throughout the process. Effective delegation requires a mutual understanding by the delegator and the person being delegated to as to:
    • What the task is (including the degree of completion expected)
    • By-when the delegator needs the task back
    • What resources are required or available to complete the task
    • The communication method for returning-and-reporting progress (a longer project timeline might require intermittent check-ins on status, etc.)
    • And, each of these expectations should be documented in writing so that both parties can refer back to what was agreed upon

    Establishing clear expectations will better guarantee that the work will come back at the level of quality required. We also need to ensure that the people we delegate to know they can approach us with questions when they reach obstacles in their path. If we seem unapproachable, we’re increasing the chances that the work will come back to us below our expectations because the staff person was afraid to ask for help.

It is possible that the person being delegated to is not competent to do the work we’re delegating. When we follow the delegation techniques outlined above, it will help us identify if there’s a competency issue that needs to be addressed.

Creating a culture that embraces learning through delegation helps build trust from both sides. We as delegators have to first trust that our staff can handle the responsibility we give them and that they’ll communicate openly if they need help or are stuck. And in return, the staff members being delegated to trust us and trust that their firm is committed to growing its people and working as a team to deliver excellent client service.

Let’s make a commitment to stop being over-owners, over-doers and if we’re not exhibiting that behavior, that we’ll help any over-owner, over-doer team members around us determine what responsibilities or tasks can be moved off their plate. It’s a win-win situation when effective delegation becomes the norm.

What challenges do you encounter in delegation or in being an over-owner, over-doer? What methods have worked for you to avoid being an over-owner, over-doer? Share with us and fellow readers below!

Kind regards,



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