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Newsflash: You don’t have to be good at everything!

February 27, 2010

Guess what? My failings are being made more and more evident these days and… I couldn’t be happier!

I recently hired staff into two brand new positions and both of them took tasks away from me so that we could grow in the areas of fundraising and communications (especially online) and so that I would have more time to twiddle my thumbs and get lost in online rabbit holes.  Oops… I mean so that I could focus on the leadership part of my job since I now have 17 people on my team (gulp).

They’ve only been here for a short time, but within a few weeks of their arrival, both have made some fairly significant improvements to the way we do things. To be honest, it didn’t take long for both to out-shine me and put my past efforts in certain areas to shame.

Now, if I were feeling vulnerable and insecure, I might have taken this personally and gotten caught up in self-deprecation about how I wasn’t really good enough at this job, blah, blah, blah. (And there have been days when I could have done just that, trust me.)

But you wanna know how it made me feel? HUGE and utter relief!

For starters, things are getting done and I don’t have to do them!

But more than that, they’re moving the markers on things that I honestly didn’t have the capacity or sufficient interest to master. I’m not great at fundraising and database management, and yet it’s part of our team’s responsibility, and so I would slog my way through some of it and mostly fail at it. I’m not all that good at website maintenance and analysis, and so mostly I would ignore it and pretend it didn’t need to be done.

Now I’ve hired two people who shine in those areas and it doesn’t make me feel badly for the ways I’ve failed, it makes me feel GREAT about all the things we’re now able to do as a team!

Here’s a revolutionary thought…

You don’t have to be good at everything!

Let that sink in for a moment. It’s true – you don’t have to master every task that you tackle or that you’re responsible for. Early in my leadership days I didn’t really get that and I would try to do a good job at every task our team needed to perform because I was sure that otherwise my staff and boss would think I was underqualified to lead the team. You’ve heard the term “micro-managing”, right? Yeah, well, I may have been guilty of that a time or two in the past.

But somewhere along the line I realized – HEY, there are some people on the team who are WAY better than me in these areas and if I just trust them to do what they’re capable of, we’ll all be further ahead in the long run.

Take administration and organization, for example. I kinda suck in those areas. But I’ve learned to hire people who really shine – the kind of people whose cheque books are ALWAYS balanced! (Go figure.) When we interviewed my current assistant for the position, she told us that when she was a kid, she used to line up her Barbie doll shoes because she needed to have order around her. As soon as I heard that, I thought “BINGO! We need to hire her!” It turns out my instincts were right – she’s good at all the areas that I lack and she makes the whole team look good!

Here’s another revolutionary thought:

Letting other people shine in the areas of their giftedness is good for everyone!

If you let your ego get in the way and you think you have to show yourself to be capable in every area and you don’t let people have their spot in the sun, well the truth is that you’ll all suffer. You’ll look bad because you’ll perform in a sub-par fashion, and they’ll look bad because they won’t have a chance to perform at all.

My new staff are raising the caliber of the whole team and they’re making all of us look good. What’s not to like? Plus I get to spend more time doing the things I actually AM good at – leadership, visioning, planning, directing… and delegating! Woot!

This isn’t just a leadership lesson, this is a life lesson. Sometimes we put expectations on ourselves that are unrealistic and by slogging through all the things we’re just not good at, we’re not allowing other people to shine and we’re wasting the energy we could focus on the areas where we’re gifted. I have no trouble, for example, letting Marcel look after car maintenance. And I’m quite happy to pass my cell phone to my daughters to let one of them adjust the settings, etc. (Even though they tease me about being a techno-ludite.) And you can bet that if Marcel’s teaching term is extended, we’ll be hiring a cleaning person as quickly as I can pick up a phone.

Now, I realize that we don’t always have the luxury of hiring people to do things, and sometimes you have no choice but to step up to the plate (like I’ve done for the last five and a half years before the board approved these new positions, or all those years of cleaning our own house while we’ve lived on a single income), but sometimes there are creative ways to let other people shine in the areas we’re not good at – like doing a “skills swap”, or looking for willing volunteers or youth interns.

My point is this…

Admitting that people outshine you in some areas doesn’t decrease your personal value.

The truth is, it might actually increase it, because you’ll have more opportunity for the areas in which you shine.

(Says the girl who is fumbling her way through figuring out what it means to be a full time leader/director, rather than a leader/fundraiser/database manager/communicator/web manager.)

8 Comments leave one →
  1. February 27, 2010 2:25 pm

    It took me a long time to learn this lesson, too. But, once I did, whew, the pressure was off of me to do everything. I was happier and more productive and my staff was happy and more productive. One project was finished in half the time it would have normally taken.

    Now that I have started my own business I am back to doing everything. But, as I grow I know I’ll be hiring others to help me in the areas I am not strong in.

    Today I even talked to a friend about bartering. I asked her if she was willing to help me organize an event (which she is super at, and me, not so much) in exchange for attending the event for free instead of me paying her to help me. She said, Yes!!

    Thanks for a great post and the gentle reminders.

  2. February 27, 2010 3:47 pm


    I love it when people are better than me at doing stuff. Especially when they work for me!

  3. February 27, 2010 5:47 pm

    well said, as always. I love your honesty. It took a LONG time for me to realize that I would not be good at everything and nor should I be. It is so freeing! Expanding, hiring the right people, and delegating is a huge reflection on you as a Leader, I think. Letting go, focusing on doing the job you are great at, and letting people take on ownership of tasks is great motivation for the Team. win. win. I love that!

  4. February 27, 2010 8:19 pm

    I guess that is why you are the boss and chose to hire good people – delegating tasks to those who can do the job correctly. I’m glad it worked out so good.

  5. February 28, 2010 9:53 am

    The ability to make the right hiring decisions is a huge gift, that many “team leaders” don’t have. If you’re able to build a good team that plays to each member’s strengths, then you’re entitled to pat yourself on the back and enjoy watching their talents take your team in new directions. As long as you have ONE person who can handle the admin and ONE person who’s good at managing the budget then the future will be rosy! (It’s surprising how many places I’ve worked in where nobody addresses the budget. In my last job it took me a month to find out what my own budget was. This is one of the things I like about being a freelancer – I know where every penny comes from and goes to.)

    Enjoy being the boss!

  6. February 28, 2010 11:38 am

    an excellent post. Reflects a mature type of wisdom. Always working on learning these lessons.

    Wonder how this will/can apply to my questions about the darfur blog/ fundraiser? I could sure use someone who is really good at marketing, networking, advertising. Do these things come to those who wait? Kind of ironic that it would require the skills that I don’t have to find the people/resources that I need…..

    I’ll take advice if anyone is handing it out.

  7. February 28, 2010 12:53 pm

    I especially like the part about how everyone wins. You let someone else play to their strengths and do what they’re good at, and you get the work done more quickly and competently than you ever could do yourself. Great post, and a lesson in how sometimes we need to be a little humble to be able to be greater (and let others be greater too).

  8. Dovelily permalink
    February 28, 2010 7:25 pm

    Thank you for another great post, Heather! This is a great and important lesson for everyone to learn, myself included. Congratulations to you and your team! You’ll all go on to do great things, I’m sure!

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