This is the fourth installment in a series on Irrational Habits, the very human stuff that messes with our desired outcomes. So far, we’ve covered eclipsing outcomes with feelings, crowdsourcing discontent, and the fact that throwaway comments aren’t, actually. Let’s talk about another irrational habit: eclipsing experts with over-engagement.
We hire experts. We invite people with specific types of experience to join our organization or team. We ask colleagues to take on new work. We do all of this to reduce our exhaustion and cognitive load, to elevate other people’s expertise and accelerate outcomes. Perhaps most important, we understand that in order to be truly great at something, we must be bad at something else; therefore, others will accelerate outcomes because they are better at different stuff than we are.
And yet, despite our rational understanding of this, despite taking action to hire on and offload, we do not feel less burnt out or depleted. Why?
Because often, we do not reduce the level of personal energy we throw at problems. Though we make the effort to ask for and hire help, we must also vary our energy as things come up. Ultimately, we fail to change our behavior in response to a changed context and team expertise, and it keeps everyone in an unneeded churn.
Why do we do this? Because varying our energy and attention with intention is neither innate nor easy. We may also worry that reducing or shifting our attention looks like apathy or lack of concern to others. Or perhaps we value hard work, and not being overly involved feels like we are slacking.
Awareness can begin to shift this irrational habit and help you notice, sooner, how much attention and energy you are spending on something – especially things other people can take on, that you handled in the past. As you bring in subject matter expertise and delegate more things, you must coordinate more than collaborate.
Five Levels of Energy
One way to pay closer attention to the level of energy you deploy around other people is to imagine five different kinds of people at the beach (Navy Seal, Lifeguard, Shorebird, Cloud Dweller and Homebody). These folks describe five levels of energy in how we delegate and show up in the world. Level Five (Navy Seal) is the highest, most emergency-response level and Level One (Homebody) is the lowest and most distant.
When it comes to energy and involvement, are you a Navy Seal or a Shorebird?
The key takeaway is that most things do not require a Navy Seal all, or even most, of the time.
Keep this list handy as an aid to observe and quickly classify how much energy you’re expending, even when another expert may be present.
Level 5: Navy Seal
High-alert mode, drop everything and dive in, search and rescue. Call in all possible resources. This is rarely, truly required.
- You are a project lead directing others with high-priority energy.
- You take over a client meeting.
Meeting Example: In a leadership team meeting with 10 other people, a newly hired expert presents a finely crafted solution to a problem. You interrogate its every nuance, to the point that the expert wonders why they spent time making it in the first place. If each piece requires so much of your attention, why didn’t you create it sooner?
Level 4: Lifeguard
Dives in and helps others only when needed, a calming presence who guides by demonstrating or coaching.
Delegation Example: In a 1:1, you notice something needs your expertise. You don’t take over and instead participate in the solution.
Meeting Example: You notice something significant that someone else missed. You offer the insight and help without taking on added responsibility or control.
Level 3: Shorebird
Shorebirds inhabit the boundary between the sea and the beach, standing nearby but not IN the water with their team.
Delegation Example: You are involved and aware of the day-to-day. You offer coaching or ideas, mostly solicited yet sometimes not. You have established a solid signal process with the team, so the difference is clear when people are drowning vs. waving. You practice self-discipline to not dive in too soon.
Meeting Example: You are engaged yet don’t do a lot of talking unless a significant point is required. You mostly leave matters in others’ hands and offer expertise only where you can provide significant value. You intentionally save energy for the real Lifeguard and Navy Seal moments.
Level 2: Cloud Dweller
Cloud Dwellers lay on a blanket reading a book, looking up every once in a while.
Delegation Example: You focus on your own high-leverage deliverables and are mostly hands-off. You have clear systems in place, and other people know when and how they should involve you.
Meeting Example: You are engaged and show approval, yet only edit or ask questions when necessary or significant. You only get up and go to the shore if it’s required, when you think someone is truly drowning or in trouble. You understand the opportunity cost of an entire leadership team chiming in on insignificant details.
Level 1: Homebody
The homebody is not even at the beach: they are at home cooking and reading, waiting to hear about what happened at the beach.
Delegation Example: You say, “Let me know if these two things happen or if you need me. You’ve got this.” You monitor a dashboard, or the team occasionally reports on what is happening.
Meeting Example: You listen and believe the team who is leading it has it well in hand. You add momentum to the outcome with appreciation, not direction.
So now what?
We need to get out of the water more often, spend less time in the churn and crash of the surf and more time thinking about the high-level leverage we can provide. Varying our energy levels does not mean checking out, so much as examining whether we are eclipsing other people. Are we keeping people from getting to the next level because we keep adding our energy? Rather than live in Navy Seal mode for every effort, can we create systems to keep ourselves in the loop with delegation?
Why Energy Matters
Delegation can build people up, improve results, and give you more time to spend in your innate talents. Too many things depending on you makes you a roadblock, and that friction reduces engagement, causes burnout, and slows results down. And frankly, you as a generalist does not accelerate outcomes as much as hiring a specialist does.
Be mindful of exhausting each other by having every person weigh in on all the details. The amount of time and energy spent perfecting things can deplete talent. Notice if you are finessing tons of details as a team.
Too often, we lose the beauty of the fresh set of eyes. Let the expert create something on their own at first. Then, offer slight edits rather than stage an inquisition to weigh in on every component.
Our energy is a finite resource. We must gauge our level of attention and energy throughout the day. We cannot, should not give everything Level Five attention, because everything does not deserve it – and the few things that do must get what they need.
Growing an organization is so dang hard. It takes deliberate practice to coach ourselves to vary our level of energy and input accordingly. Celebrate when you notice you are diving in and take a step back.