Being a leader is hard work. Here's one way to lighten the load.

Teach specific skills, not generic leadership traits

The dilemma is all too familiar—leaders at your organization are under stress, but can't delegate responsibilities, since your lower-level employees don't have the skills or experience to tackle the job.

The answer lies in empowering and training subordinates, Rick Lash writes for the Globe and Mail.

Lash cites the anecdote of a neurosurgeon in Tanzania who faced a challenge: The country had millions of people, but only three neurosurgeons. He decided to train local medical workers to perform one specific type of basic neurosurgery.

Since neurosurgery is one of those high-level tasks that doctors must spend years in training to execute, the doctor's colleagues questioned the idea of delegating a procedure with such high stakes.

But the doctor was able to train his assistants to complete the surgery reliably and expand access to health care in the country.

The doctor's teaching strategy can be applied to other organizations where leaders are feeling strained and need to delegate specialized tasks, Lash writes. He identified several principles that other managers can learn from the doctor:

1. Get specific with the skill

Before jumping in, be sure to narrowly define the skill you wish to delegate. Lash argues that many efforts to cultivate future leaders fall through because they try to teach "generic leadership capabilities" rather than gradually building a foundation of specific skills.

2. Push your employees' limits

While the specific task should be doable, it should "scare [them] just enough," writes Lash. Because the new tasks will likely intimidate them at first, Lash suggests easing them into it step by step "like raising the training wheels on a bicycle."

In the case of the brain surgery in Tanzania, the doctor first had his assistants touch an exposed brain, then asked them assist him during the surgeries, and gradually asked them to take on more and more steps of the operations.

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3. Be a mentor, not just a boss

"There is nothing that will accelerate... leadership expertise more than having a true leadership expert" writes Lash. Ideally, this expert will be able to coach mentees and provide targeted feedback.

In the case of skills that are less physical and more cognitive, employees should have a chance to understand the way their leaders think, so be sure to share your thought process when approaching difficult decisions.

4. Don't write off the "mindfulness" movement

It sounds like a trendy yogi buzzword, but it's actually vital for leadership development.

Mindful thinking involves observing your own actions, strengths, and weaknesses to target areas that need improvement. People learn much faster when they can be fully focused on each task and aware of the areas they still need to work on (Lash, "Leadership Lab," Globe and Mail, 2/20).

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