Effective managers and leaders know that they can climb greater
heights and achieve remarkable goals only if they delegate work
to the good, able and talented people around them. The logic is
simple – if they are able to rope in more brains and bodies to do
the tasks, they are able to get more things done within the same
time frame. Having these tasks out of the managers' hands will
free up their time and allow them to concentrate on value-added
jobs which befit their status and qualifications. The ability to
delegate work is therefore a vital asset that all good leaders and
managers should have. Other than time management, effective
delegation of work may take the pressure off work stress and
substantially improve the work life.
As we shall discuss, delegation is not about farming out work and
forgetting about it altogether. For the delegation of work to be
effective and to result in win-win situations, there are certain
myths worth clarifying.
The Wolf and the Shepherd
[Illus by Milo Winter]
A Wolf had been prowling around a flock of Sheep for a long time,
and the Shepherd watched very anxiously to prevent him from
carrying off a Lamb. But the Wolf did not try to do any harm.
Instead he seemed to be helping the Shepherd take care of the
Sheep. At last the Shepherd got so used to seeing the Wolf about
that he forgot how wicked he could be.
One day he even went so far as to leave his flock in the Wolf's care
while he went on an errand. But when he came back and saw how
many of the flock had been killed and carried off, he knew how
foolish to trust a Wolf as he exclaimed. “I have been rightly
served; why did I trust my sheep to a Wolf?”
Delegate your task wisely, and only to people you trust.
“Guidelines for bureaucrats: (1) When in charge, ponder.
(2) When in trouble, delegate. (3) When in doubt, mumble.”
... James H. Boren
“Surround yourself with the best people you can find,
delegate authority, and don’t interfere as long as the policy
you’ve decided upon is being carried out.” ...Ronald Reagan
“Do not delegate an assignment and then attempt to manage
it yourself – you will make an enemy of the overruled
subordinate.” ... Wess Roberts
“Big things and little things are my job. Middle level
management can be delegated.” ... Konosuke Matsushita
“If you are having as much fun running a big corporation as
you did running a piece of it, then you are probably interfering
too much with the people who really make it happen.”
... James Burke
“The finest plans are always ruined by the littleness of those
who ought to carry them out, for the Emperor can actually
do nothing.” ... Bertolt Brecht
[browse collection of quotes and quotations]
Lessons in life:
Companies have risen and fallen because they have entrusted
the wrong CEOs and successors with the management duties.
Many great family businesses had been ruined at the hands of
the children or grandchildren who took over the helm, based
on who they were rather than what they could do. When
businesses failed, CEOs rightfully took the brunt. The people
responsible for delegating the management duties should not
be spared either.
A proper delegation should be viewed as a sharing of
responsibility, and not a passing of the baton. When a leader
assigns tasks to the other team members, it remains his
responsibility to monitor and ensure that the members
complete the assigned tasks. Along the way, when the members
face difficulties and hurdles, the leader should step in to assist
and advise. Of course, for any delegation to be effective, the
leader must empower the members and confer on them a certain
amount of authority and resources necessary for the tasks at
hand. What we are saying is that the leader cannot assign all his
functions, powers and authority, and still expect to be called a
leader. He would be a consultant and not the person-in-charge.
A skillful delegation should therefore lead to a happy solution
for everyone. The CEO has time to look at the overall direction
of growth, strategic plans and policies of the company, while
retaining the top spot and top salary. The deputy CEOs and
departmental chiefs have the necessary powers and authority
to run the show, and make decisions within their portfolio. The
middle managers, supervisors and heads take charge of the day-
to-day operational activities, and are empowered to make
decisions within their scope of work.
Since delegating work plays such an important role for successful
CEOs, why are most of them not doing it, or not doing enough?
Why do we see CEOs attending to routine low-level tasks and
even chairing meetings on totally operational matters? There are
various reasons why we - CEOs, leaders and managers - avoid
delegating our tasks and responsibility. Here are some reasons
and the ways to get around them:-
1. Do not trust employees with the responsibility.
Even the most skillful manager will have this nagging feeling
that the person tasked with the job cannot carry it out in the
way he wants. Maybe the manager is a perfectionist. If so, the
problem lies with the manager having expectations that are too
high and onerous. It could also be that the manager does not
have a habit of giving clear instructions on what the task entails.
Although managers should not have to resort to holding the
staff's hands in every matter, it is always advisable to clearly
define the tasks and leave no room for doubt. Ultimately, the
questions that we should ask ourselves are these – If we do not
trust the staff, why do we employ them in the first place? If they
don't have the skill, why don't we send them for further training?
2. Only we know best.
While it is true that experience is what earn the managers their
position, nobody can claim to be a walking encyclopedia on all
matters. The workers doing the factory-line, front desk jobs day
in and day out, are the only people who know the work and the
problems faced at the back of their hands.
3. Work faster on our own.
If we have done a piece of work before, we can do it again faster
and better. We can continue taking on the same assignment and
after the hundredth time, we may complete it twice as fast.
Think then, if we train another person to do it, will that person
not be able to arrive at the same achievement over time? We
are freeing up more of our time to do other work and duties,
and on the whole, complete all our work in a much shorter time.
4. We lose our control.
How much control do we want? Are we really concerned about
the process or the outcome? We can work with the employee to
come up with a mutually agreeable process, but it is the outcome
that we are targeting. By assigning the job, we risk losing control
over the little bits of how the job is done although we can
continue to maintain control over the important aspects of the
job by spelling out the expected output and performance targets
as well as quality control checks and standards.
5. We lose our authority.
This again depends on how you view the word “authority”. We
may not have direct supervision over groups of employees. They
will report to their immediate supervisors. However, these
supervisors are now under our charge, and our authority is in
effect extended. It is akin to changing our authority from a
parent to a grand-parent. In a typical family structure, the grand-
parent status is the most revered and respected.
6. We lose credit and recognition.
This is a sore point which most managers have. Assigning jobs
means letting other people take the credit for jobs well done.
Can this be true? If we believe in the concept of teamwork,
won't the achievement of a team accrue to every team member,
including the leader of the team? If our employees steal the
limelight for an accomplishment, will some light not be thrown
onto us as well for our good leadership and management? Good
managers should also be professional enough to acknowledge
that the staff who do the work ought to get most of the praises.
Nowadays, performance incentives are tied to the team and not
individual efforts, and the people leading successful teams are
those who are most valued.
7. Employees are not committed.
This is where the delegation skills come in. In explaining the
tasks, managers should let the employees see how the tasks fit
into the overall scheme of things. Let them know the
expectations and rewards. Let the employees be the ones raising
their hands to volunteer for and commit themselves to the
8. We cannot keep track of developments.
We mentioned that after parceling out the tasks, our duties do
not end there. We have to continue to monitor the progress of
the tasks. Usually, this is done by having reporting officers
submit detailed status updates on what they have completed and
how much of the work is outstanding. This will give us a gauge
on whether the work can be completed on time. We are after all
responsible for the final outcome and while we should not micro
manage the work process, we should not lose track of its
Teamwork - A Competitive Advantage
Control and Overcome Procrastination
Cope with Work Stress
Books worth reading:
To be successful at work and yet have the time for family
and leisure is everyone's dream. The book If You Want It
Done Right, You Don't Have to Do It Yourself!: The Power
of Effective Delegation, by Donna M. Genett, aims to do just
that by giving readers useful tips on effective delegation.
Also, take a look at Robert Heller's How to Delegate
(Essential Managers Series). It is a thin handy book that
offers you tips, the do's and don'ts, checklists and quick guides
on letting go and getting the right person to do the job. Learn
some useful delegation skills and improve your work condition.
© Business Fables and Management Lessons
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Oct 4, 2007
Sep 21, 2007
There is no indefinite job security. Market conditions fluctuate so
fast that workers would rather play it safe by working into the
good books of the employer. What better way to do that than to
be the first person to step into the office and the last to leave. What
started out as pure work enthusiasts end up being workaholics.
Workaholics' lives center around work and nothing else.
Workaholism was a topic we used to joke about, but as people
became more conscious of leading balanced lifestyles, it had
changed it status to a medical problem and was labeled Work
Addiction. Work addicts are in a different class. Many do not
work for the monetary rewards, promotion or recognition; they
work because they just cannot stop working. Bosses naturally love
to employ these people since their engines can run even without
fuel. The problem is that their engines don't last. Like a machine,
they lose touch with the social aspects of life and have little regard
for friends and family. They 'burn-out' at an early age, and are
often ill and depressed. How do we tell that a person is addicted
to work? What can we do to help them lead a balanced life?
The Man, the Horse, the Ox, and the Dog
One winter's day, during a severe storm, a Horse, an Ox, and a
Dog came and begged for shelter in the house of a Man. He
readily admitted them, and, as they were cold and wet, he lit a
fire for their comfort, and he put oats before the Horse, and hay
before the Ox, while he fed the Dog with the remains of his own
When the storm abated, and they were about to depart, they
determined to show their gratitude in the following way. They
divided the life of Man among them, and each endowed one
part of it with the qualities which were peculiarly his own.
The Horse took youth, and hence young men are impetuous,
headstrong, and obstinate in maintaining his own opinion.
The Ox took middle age, and accordingly man in his middle age
is fond of work, devoted to labor, and resolute to amass wealth
and to husband his resources.
The Dog took old age, which is the reason why old men are so
often peevish and ill-tempered, and, like dogs, attached chiefly
to those who look to their comfort, while they are disposed to
snap at those who are unfamiliar or distasteful to them.
Man's life is predestined.
Man by nature loves to work.
“It's true hard work never killed anyone but I figure
why take the chance?” ... Ronald Reagan
“For workaholics, all the eggs of self-esteem are in the
basket of work.” ... Judith M. Bardwick
“When work is a pleasure, life is a joy! When work is
duty, life is slavery.” ... Maxim Gorky
“One of the saddest things is that the only thing a man
can do for eight hours a day, day after day, is work. You
can't eat ... nor make love for eight hours.”
... William Faulkner
“There are two things to aim at in life: first, to get what
you want; and, after that, to enjoy it. Only the wisest of
mankind achieve the second.” ... Logan Pearsall Smith
“Imagine life as a game in which you are juggling five
balls in the air. You name them - work, family, health,
friends, and spirit - and you're keeping all of these in
the air. You will soon understand that work is a rubber
ball. If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other
four balls - family, health, friends, and spirit are made
of glass. If you drop one of these, they will be irrevocably
scuffed, marked, nicked, damaged, or even shattered.
They will never be the same. You must understand that
and strive for balance in your life.” ... Brian Dyson
[browse collection of quotes and quotations]
Lessons in life:
The social problems arising out of this compulsive behavior are
plenty. We mentioned health as a major consequence.
Workaholics have a tendency to neglect their health. They
delay seeking medical treatment for their sickness and prefer to
spend their day working in office than recuperating at home.
Sometimes, it may be delayed so much that the sickness becomes
incurable. Common ailments are blood pressure and heart
problems, caused mainly by the work pressure they put onto
Besides physical condition, the emotional aspects of a workaholic
have to be considered. The moment he hits home, he would be
too tired to give any attention to his family members and loved
ones. He may be listening to his children, but his mind is
somewhere else, probably thinking of the uncompleted
assignments and projects. With little emotional bonding within
the family unit, it is a matter of time that he splits ways and the
spouse files for divorce.
There are telling signs of work addiction. Look around your
office or place of work and if you spot someone with several of
these symptoms, they are either already workaholics or have the
potential to be:-
- Works extraordinarily long hours.
- Always in a hurry.
- A perfectionist.
- Does not like to delegate work.
- Likes to stay in control.
- Emails you in the middle of the night.
- Wants everything done urgently and quickly.
- Impatient and has a low tolerance for mistakes.
- Always talking about work matters.
- Does not socialize unless forced to.
- Routine is home – office – home and nowhere else.
- Possibly temperamental and hostile.
- Takes little care of personal health and hygiene.
- Goes to work when on medical leave.
- Does not take vacation leave.
Within this broad generalization, there are also those who
choose to overwork themselves. We shall deal first with the true
blue workaholics i.e., those who take their work seriously and
cannot kick the habit of working. Such people have to
progressively understand that work is never-ending. Rather
than undertake the work alone, they should learn to delegate
and farm out the work. Bosses often pile work on workaholics
because they can produce results. A person has but two hands
and there is a limit as to how much work he can handle. It is
therefore useful to learn how to say “No” and to reject work. If
attention is spread too thin among all the assignments, quality is
adversely affected and it would not benefit the company. Devote
more time to relationships. Be convinced that success in life is
incomplete if it is only a success at work but a failure at home.
The second group of workers intentionally put themselves in
that position of a workaholic for various reasons:-
1. The pretender
He works hard only when his bosses are looking. One Japanese
bank manager we knew had this daily routine. He would leave his
computer on, switch to a password-protected screensaver mode,
and sneak out of the office at about 5pm. He had his dinner,
shower, booze and returned to office at 8pm. He then worked till
midnight and returned home after that. His boss would leave the
office at about 11pm, and was always pleased to see this manager
at his desk even at that late hour.
2. The opportunist
There is a rosy opportunity, a managerial position that is recently
vacant and up for grabs. This person has been eyeing it for a long
time and decides to become a work addict overnight to prove to
the management that he has the cut for the job. He makes a lot of
'noise' while at work just so that people know that he is working
3. The insecure
At the other end of the spectrum, instead of a possible promotion,
this person senses a threat to his position. He may get fired
because he handled something badly or there is a new employee
who is better qualified. The feeling of insecurity motivates this
person to work.
4. The procrastinator
He sits on files, drags his feet. Close to the deadline, he suddenly
wakes up to the reality that his career is on the line if he does not
complete the assignment. During this last stretch of the race, and
so close to the deadline, he has no alternative but to work doubly
5. The escapist
Family unhappiness causes him to stay out of the home. With
nowhere else to go, he stays in office for as long as he can and dives
into work to keep his mind away from his marital problems.
Curing the habit for these lot of people will depend on the reason
for them wanting to work long hours. A good boss should
encourage his employees to have a balanced life. The best way to
do that is to be the exemplary figure. If bosses leave the office
right after office hours, openly talk about their golf and other
social hobbies, and party away on weekends, the workers are
likely to follow suit.
Learn the Art of Saying NO
Cope with Work Stress
Higher Purpose and Job Satisfaction
Control and Overcome Procrastination
Books worth reading:
In Chained to the Desk: A Guidebook for Workaholics,
Their Partners and Children, and the Clinicians Who Treat
Them Bryan Robinson explains that workaholics need work
to satisfy their unconscious psychological needs. Although it
is often rewarded, it is a mental health problem that has to be
treated. The book has worksheets to help us identify a work
addict, and treatment methods to cure the work addiction.
For a personal insight and a reality check on what companies
do – to make profits – and how employees should view their
job, read this book It's Called Work for a Reason!: Your
Success Is Your Own Damn Fault by Larry Winget, the host of
the A&E reality show Big Spender.
© Business Fables and Management Lessons