Sara Husby | Crain's San Francisco

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Sara Husby

Background:  

Sara Husby is the executive director of the Anza-Borrego Foundation, the nonprofit arm of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, which makes up 20 percent of San Diego County. Prior to the Anza-Borrego Foundation, Husby was the executive director of Tuleyome, a conservation nonprofit in Northern California, where she led the campaign for the permanent protection of the Berryessa Snow Mountain region.

The Mistake:

Not asking for help.

It took me many years to decide what I wanted to be when I grew up, so I didn’t get my college degree until after I was 25. But it wasn’t long after that I became the executive director of a conservation nonprofit. I was 29 years old.

At that point, I was learning an entirely new industry — one I was passionate about, but it was still overwhelming. I had made myself available practically 24/7 for five years, as I worked on the Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument. I didn’t know how to stop working, or how to tell people I couldn’t do certain things. I was a young woman, and I wanted to make a name for myself, so I thought I needed to keep up this unrealistic pace. It affected my personal relationships, my health and my happiness.

When it came time to write year-end appeal letters to new and existing donors, I was still holding onto this idea that I could do everything on my own. Well, one of my appeal letters was delayed by multiple months because I was so overwhelmed, and I had to ask my executive assistant for help. When I did, she responded: “I’ve been waiting for you to ask me that.”

I was a young woman, and I wanted to make a name for myself, so I thought I needed to keep up this unrealistic pace.

The Lesson:

It’s OK to delegate.

It took me a while, but through leadership training from organizations like the American Leadership Forum, I was able to reflect on why I’ve had such a problem delegating tasks throughout my life: I was always trying to prove to myself, my teacher or my parents that I was good enough. I also let my job help define who I was.

I set high expectations for myself and expect a level of perfection that is unhealthy. Asking for help was scary because it put me in a vulnerable place. But when you’re in charge of the big, important projects, it’s nice to have people handling the smaller things, like going to the post office or helping book your airfare — that way, people aren’t waiting on you to finish the bigger stuff.

Since learning how to let go of that, I’ve been able to connect with others in a way I couldn’t before. I am receptive to new ideas and am more collaborative now. Delegating makes me a better leader because it allows me to better manage my time and put my strengths where they belong. And it empowers my employees to grow, too, because they have more responsibilities.

The Anza-Borrego Foundation is on Twitter at @Anza_Borrego.

Photo courtesy of the Anza-Borrego Foundation.

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