The following are some lines I’ve heard bosses tell their subordinates when the latter are feeding back about difficulties in their jobs:
- “Be creative.”
- “Just do it.”
- “Don’t give me problems.”
- “If there’s a will, there’s a way.”
- “I can count on you.”
- “That’s what I pay you for.”
- “That’s what I hired you to do.”
- “You have to be a team player.”
When bosses give responses like these, chances are they themselves have no clue on what to do. Chances are too that these bosses don’t want to bother spending time helping their subordinates.
Some bosses have the mindset that subordinates are nothing more than minions, followers on a payroll who are meant to do dirty work the bosses would rather not be doing.
Bosses who think this way risk unfavourable repercussions.
A middle-aged businessman thought he had a good life. His packaging business was doing well. He had long-term contracts with clients that assured steady revenue for succeeding years. He had no problems procuring materials and his work force was productive as they met delivery targets to customers without fail.
The businessman one day delegated most of the day-to-day administrative work to his accountant. For many years after, he would hardly report to the office. The accountant took care of everything.
The accountant would occasionally ask the businessman to sign documents and checks, and report that all is well with the enterprise.
The businessman would spend most days at a nearby cafe, sipping his favourite coffee, reading the newspaper, and chatting with friends. The businessman had a steady source of income as the accountant would regularly deposit his salary to his bank account. Life was good.
One day, one of the businessman’s office staff reported that the bank called saying there was not enough money to fund one of the checks he signed. The accountant was absent, so the businessman called the bank. He found out that his cash balance at the bank was low. He went to the office and found out most of the enterprise’s money was gone. The accountant had fled, she apparently had been embezzling cash from the enterprise for years.
The businessman had no cash to pay his workers and vendors. The businessman had to lay off his workers, renegotiate debts, and cancel contracts with clients. The businessman spent years afterward to rebuild his reputation and re-start his business from scratch. To this day, the businessman goes to work every day to manage the day-to-day operations of his company, no longer entrusting money matters to anyone.
It’s one thing to assign work to employees and trust them to be stewards of important tasks. It’s another thing to assign work to employees and leave them on their own.
Delegation is not about giving work to other people so the boss can relax and forget. Delegation is about working together with employees to spread workloads to capable people for the sake of productivity and innovation.
Delegation is a subset of teamwork. Team leaders assign jobs but don’t leave the team. When team leaders delegate, they work with team members. Not so much in looking over their shoulders but more in communicating, responding to feedback, and helping secure needed resources. It’s about entrusting employees to do important jobs and treating them as partners.
When we treat employees not as minions but as partners, we not only boost productivity but we open doors for opportunities via new ideas that employees with their expertise and feedback would bring.
We delegate not to evade work but to improve it.