Coaching Questions of the Month: Delegating Tasks

This month our Coaching Questions are all about Delegating Tasks.

When it comes to Making Decisions ask yourself these questions:

1. When you look at your work week, where are you spending most of your time and energy? What is the division between routine tasks and strategic thinking?

2. Looking at everything on your plate, which tasks are ones others can accomplish?

3. Which of your projects—if delegated—would allow a member of your team to develop a new skill?

4. How will you check in with those to whom you delegate?

5. Assuming you delegate effectively, what will you do with the additional time and energy you will receive? Where should you focus?

Have a question for Coach Leila or your own experience delegating tasks?

Leave a comment on this post or connect with us on Facebook.

3 Tips for Leaders from the Back to School Groove

We’re re-running this blog post about getting back into the school groove as part of our revamped blog. Stay tuned and check back for more timely tips from Leila! 


Three Tips for Leaders from the
Back to School Groove

As I bought back to school supplies, had uniforms nice and clean for the first day, and attended back to school  night, some thoughts came to mind on how going back to school provides leaders with three tips on renewing their approaches, especially as they return from vacation and get ready for the latter half of the year.

1. Review the rules.

At back to school night, I learned about the steps my children’s teachers take to enforce the school’s discipline process.

As a leader of people, you probably won’t experience success with a stoplight system of green for great days, yellow for breaking one rule, and red for breaking more than one rule. That works best for 2nd graders.

Yet you will get traction if you clearly explain what actions you will take when an employee is not at least meeting goals.

Some of the toughest situations I coach clients through is what to do with an employee who is struggling yet has never received consistent, honest feedback regarding his/her inadequate level of performance.

Don’t wait for your organization’s annual review period to establish what the rules for performance are. Your next 1:1 is your next opportunity to discuss which actions are meeting your expectations and which ones aren’t—and what the consequences are.

2. Be on time.

When children arrive late at school, they are tardy. Lessons start with or without them. And teachers keep track of tardiness and inform parents.

When you arrive late to a meeting, you are. . . what? Simply late?

I see varying degrees of consequence from my clients on how their organizations cope with back-to-back meeting culture. I hear how being late to meetings is “part of the company culture.” Wow, that’s a lame (yes, very ’80s of me) excuse.

Each person contributes to a culture. Last Friday I had a call with a client, and in setting up our next meeting, she first said “4 pm.” She then said, “Wait, can we do 4:05? I have a meeting before hand and it will go at least until 4.” Works for me!

Be on time. If it feels impossible, try it just once a day. See how it makes you feel.

3. Be organized.

My children have new pens, markers, pencils, and color-coded folders. Green is the home folder, purple is spelling, etc.

Just a bit of organization goes a long way.

Create a space that works for you. Label hard and soft folders, place notes for separate projects into separate folders, and if you need to, figure out how to clear out that Inbox!

I love Levenger’s punching system: I can quickly insert notes, handouts, contracts, and place the history of a project into a sleek binder.

What do you think? How do you get back into the fall groove?  I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.

Kind regards from the San Francisco Bay Area,



Need Versus Want

So, it’s the end of January. If you made resolutions at the beginning of the month, have they stuck and turned into habits or have they been forgotten, pushed aside by items of a higher priority?

If your resolutions haven’t evolved into actions, don’t feel bad about it.

Yes, a new calendar year is an inspiring time to think about how this year can be different, yet it is only one time, just one opportunity to consider what you are doing now, how you are accomplishing it, and why you are exerting energy on it.

I don’t make resolutions. Instead, I think about what I want to do and what I need to do.

Want to do vs. need to do can be done on a tactical or strategic level.

Here’s how I do it on a tactical level. Every Monday I make a very short (no more than 5 items) list of what I want to do and what I need to do.

The want to do side includes the items I enjoy and are easier to accomplish. I tend to gravitate towards these actions. I’m good at these things, and they are fun to me.

The need to do side includes the items I do not enjoy and are harder to get done. I tend to avoid these actions. I may or may not be skilled in these areas. Sometimes they require more energy than I want to exert at the time, and they don’t seem fun.

I repeat the exercise monthly, quarterly, and yearly, focusing on the big picture for me and my team.

Many of us create resolutions around items we feel we need to do. I need to exercise. I need to be patient. I need to network. I need to be strategic.

For a need to shift to a want, you must identify the end results or benefits of the action as well as the consequences of failing to take it.

Once you spell out the reasons why you need to do something, it can become easier for you to take concrete steps towards action. And you can begin to see how the action helps you, how it affects you. And it begins to turn into a desire—a want—vs. a need.

This is a big leap for many leaders. It takes a good deal of EQ (emotional intelligence), specifically self awareness, to get to this point.

The next step can sometimes be just as difficult. I’d argue it is even more critical. It is moving from “I want to do this” to “I know how to accomplish this.”

This is where and when an executive coach is a perfect partner. I help leaders move from need to want to can do.

So, as you consider what’s on your agenda for the first quarter of 2012, break down your list and first distinguish between I need to and I want to.

Then, as you review your desires in a conscious manner, solicit help from your leader, Human Resources/Training, mentors, advisors, or an executive coach so you reach the state of can do.


© Leila Bulling Towne  2012

Two Things To Remember About Accountability

Accountability is rarely far from my mind when I am coaching leaders. Often times the topic appears as elusive and desirable as the Holy Grail: “If we could just figure out how to hold people accountable, we’d get so much done.”

Accountability is not the solution, yet effective leaders do need to define and demonstrate it to their team members. Keeping it near the top of the to do list is hard, of course.

Fortunately (or not?), news about leaders who have failed to hold themselves accountable surrounds us most weeks. For those of us in the United States, the most recent example is Joe Paterno, the newly fired Penn State football coach, who learned that one of his assistant coaches was molesting a child and passed on the information—and did nothing else.

Joe’s failure to hold himself and a direct report answerable is an example of how dramatic and destructive disregarding accountability can be.

Paterno’s mistakes remind us of two best practices.

1. Timing matters. Move fast when correcting (and praising).

If you observe a behavior that needs to be changed, give feedback—soon. The same applies when you want to recognize productive conduct. Act on it before the context is lost and while you can remember details.

If you find that you’ve waited and the memory is faded, choose to still coach the employee, and come clean that you should have spoken earlier. “I should have given you this feedback earlier, after I observed this behavior. I apologize. In the future, I will share my thoughts more promptly, allowing us to work together towards changes.”

2. Delegating doesn’t mean you’re done.

Passing on a task to someone else doesn’t mean you are done with your part. When you delegate, when you hand off a task or information, you and the team member must discuss how you will check in. Not if you will do so.

If the team member has deep experience with you and the organization, the two of you may decide that you will routinely allow the person to carry through alone and only circle back at the end. You check in less frequently with a senior member of your team vs. a less experienced or less tenured member, yet you still check in, especially if the situation is a delicate or controversial one.

I don’t feel a leader demonstrates less faith in an individual when he checks in. I see it as demonstrating support and, in the words of The Leadership Challenge by Kouzes and Posner, modeling the way.

The buck does stop with you.

A final thought for leaders: make yourself ultra available. Tell your team members—not once but once a week—to come find you when they need you. If you are ultra available, they will be more likely to try to get to you when they need to.

“When you need me, find me.” “Email, call me, text me.” “Swing by my desk.” “What help can I provide? What do you need from me?”

And when you get calls from team members, thank them: “Thank you for calling and checking in.” Dan Pink wrote a recent blog entry with an example of ultra availability. That is modeling the way.


© Leila Bulling Towne  2011

Social Media Best Practices for Managers

I realize I’m probably not in the majority with my recommendation that managers limit their social media activities. Here are a few quick tips right now:

1.  I want you to be friendly with your employees—not friends with them.

2.  You can tweet about your job if it will help your organization reach its goals . . . complaining, bad mouthing other people, disparaging clients, etc. should be done at home and offline.

3.  You can post pictures on Facebook as long as you realize that your manager or another superior probably will see them, too, and sooner than you think.

Check out this video for more information on social media best practices for managers:

Building Trust With Your Employees

Leaders should make themselves vulnerable. Executive coach Leila Bulling Towne shows you how doing so will give employees new reasons to trust you.

Digging For Answers…

I have a lot of bees in my bonnet on a regular basis.

I know this. I am aware that I exert too much energy discussing injustices and then trying to fix them.

Like a bee, I’m digging around. I’m trying to find something: an answer, a reason why, the lesson to learn.

Some recent examples in the news have been fodder for casual conversations that quickly become relevant to the executive coaching I do most often and love.

Two examples include Arnold Schwarzenegger’s disclosure of his “hidden” child and Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s attack on a hotel maid.

Two high-profile, successful, seemingly intelligent individuals who made, shall I say, bad decisions? Arnold’s choice to cheat on his wife cannot be compared to Strauss-Kahn’s violent act, of course.

The “bee” in these stories for me is this: how can people who seem amazingly smart make such ridiculous decisions?

The “bee” in me is trying to figure out how I can help my clients to avoid bad calls. To avoid going down a road (nothing like the routes Schwarzenegger and Strauss-Kahn took) that in the middle of a rushed conversation or meeting appears to be the ideal way to go.

Part of my digging has included re-reading two books by Sydney Finkelstein: Why Smart Executives Fail and Think Again: Why Good Leaders Make Bad Decisions.

These two books, my thoughts, and the experiences of clients help me continue to collect the best material to take back to the hive—and share.

My bonnet will always be full of bees, yet at least I feel as if they are doing some good work.

© Leila Bulling Towne  2011

Managing Unhappy High Achievers

Your best employee has suddenly become unhappy and difficult. You don’t want to lose her, but the whole team is suffering. Find out what you can do to turn things around.

How To Network Internally

Don’t fall into the trap of networking only outside your current company. Learn how to meet your manager’s peers as well as people with different duties in other departments.

How To Make Top Performing Employees Greater Than Yourself

Earlier this year, I spoke with Liz Dennery Sanders of SheBrand, about the top leadership themes everyone should have on their radar.

One of the themes refuses to come down from the #1 spot: helping executives avoid losing their top performers.

I remain optimistic (cautious, yes) that things are getting better. I see subtle signs in the small businesses I frequent and I hear resounding trumpets from some of my clients—like the ecstatic sales director in a workshop this week, who talked wildly about his organization (and no, it wasn’t simply because it’s his job to be a raving fan).

In creating plans for executives to coach their stars 1:1 and in teams, there are some ideas I return to often and then some new ones that pop up.

A favorite in the last few years remains the book Greater Than Yourself by Steve Farber.

The title refers to the book’s theme: amazing leaders help others become better, greater, more powerful, more awesome than themselves.

Why don’t leaders do this already? Why don’t more people view relationships as ways to make others greater, greater than they themselves are? Why isn’t there more joy in creating success in someone else? Why isn’t it acceptable? Or mandated?

Should I ask someone to help me become greater? Should I make sure I am ready to be asked myself? Whom should I choose?

The relationships Steve discusses in the book develop through a common connection and honesty that is already established and most times has happened naturally. But they become much more powerful when both sides subtly see what they are doing for each other.

Many of my weekly conversations allow me to help executives to be so much greater than me. For the leaders I coach 1:1, it becomes part of our common language: “How will this help someone become greater than you?”

As this week ends, I would like you to think about what you can do so one of your star performers—someone you don’t want to and can’t afford to lose—becomes greater than you.

© Leila Bulling Towne  2011

Connect with Leila

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.