The art of delegation – 1

The CEO of Exodus Enterprises had no inkling about his father-in-law’s visit to his office that afternoon. Even though it was a little after mid-day, it looked like he was already flushed from the deluge of work that he had to do. He still had three committee meetings to chair and several memos awaiting his signature. He loosened his tie because though the air-conditioner was working full blast, he was still feeling hot. It would be a long day. Even though it was very tiring, that was his usual routine and he was used to it. He always arrived home at the end of each day washed out and to all intents and purposes, drained of energy.

When his father-in-law walked in, Mike stood up to greet him and after the exchange of what appeared to be perfunctory pleasantries, motioned his visitor to a seat and continued to work as if oblivious of his presence. John watched as people streamed in and out of Mike’s office to run what could pass as needless trivia by him for affirmation or approval. Minutes dragged into hours and the two of them barely had enough time to exchange banter. John found that very disconcerting. This was the first time he would be seeing his son-in-law after the latter quit Jethro Associates to head Exodus Enterprises. Getting home later, he decided to have a conversation with his son-in-law,

“What was that in your office today? Do you want to die and leave my daughter a widow prematurely? Why would you take on so much? I mean everyone in the organization depends on you and your word to do anything!”

“I know sir.” Mike replied. “I wish I could help it. The organization is still young and the Board of Directors expects so much from me. The staff all look up to me as CEO to know the direction of the company and what the Board wants.”

“What you are doing is not good” said John. “You and the people with you will certainly wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you. You are not able to do it alone. You are already stretching yourself too thin!”

“I know sir. I don’t like it either. But there isn’t much I can do. They need me.”

“That is because you made it so. What you need to do is to look for the competent and trusted ones among them and appoint them to represent you on some matters to the people while you concern yourself with more serious matters and be in a position to provide the leadership that positions the organization for effectiveness” counselled John. “Make those leaders accountable to you while you remain accountable to the Board. That way, you not only free time to do more essential things but you will also witness tremendous growth in the company. And your health will also be preserved and your life prolonged.”

Thankfully, Mike listened to his father-in-law. He appointed some trusted people to superintend the activities of the departments he created to run the affairs of the company. In sharing power through delegation, productivity increased, the people were happier because they felt more like stakeholders in the organization. Mike felt his energy return and his reasoning less hazy. The organization was the better for it.

In the above scenario, I have tried to recreate in a contemporary way, the story of Moses and Jethro in Exodus 18 of the Holy Bible.

According to Andrew Carnegie, “No man will make a great leader who wants to do it all himself, or to get all the credit for doing it.”

Delegation is one of the leader’s most effective strategies for reproducing himself. An organization does not achieve much when a leader tries to make himself indispensable. Unfortunately, too many people are locked in the cocoon of the Messiah Complex that makes them feel that without them, the organization will not survive.

An ‘indispensable’ leader is a dangerous time-bomb to himself and to others around him. There is no one who is wired to do everything very well. People come into our lives as contemporaries, employees, family, friends, superiors with strengths and competences that compensate for our inadequacies. No one is a self-made man. In actual fact, nobody is indispensable. And nobody knows it all. Several years ago, I read a piece that, in a very sobering way, debunked the myth of indispensability. According to the writer, if you want to know how indispensable you are, fill a bucket with water, dip your hand into it, letting it go all the way down to the bottom of the bucket. Then slowly pull out your hand. The void that remains afterwards is an indication of how indispensable you are!

Even Jesus delegated His assignment to others because He recognized His human limitations. The person with the toga of indispensability is not likely to be easily promoted in the organization because everyone believes that he is the only person who can perform the task. Since the organization cannot find a replacement for function in that position, Mr. Indispensable is usually passed up for essential elevation on the job! Great leaders aren’t known by how much they do themselves but by how much they are able to get done usually through others.

Imagine seeing an Executive Director of a bank behind the counter. Even though his job is to see that the branches under his watch effectively carry out their primary assignment of disbursing money to or receiving money from customers in a seamless way, he would not be directly responsible for any of the two services. It would be unusual seeing Otedola driving a diesel truck and delivering its contents to a fuel station or a Dangote personally driving a trailer of cement to a distributor’s depot. Neither of them would have become significantly successful if that was how they operated.

No doubt, at the beginning of an enterprise or project, a high level of personal involvement may be needed. There are pioneering efforts and functions where you may not have too many competent subordinates and you have to practically do all the work. But that is just at the beginning. Leaders in such situation deliberately plan to work themselves out of that logjam by sometimes engaging the help of usually unpaid associates or family members as long as such involvement does not in any way compromise or jeopardize the integrity of the assignment.

This is only for a temporary period which is a phase in the organization’s story. If the organization is to grow, the leader must learn to relinquish responsibility to others through delegation. In every organization that is evolving, the bulk of the tough work is performed at the lowest level of competence. A leader must therefore learn to delegate along lower lines of competence to his while supervising delegates to ensure compliance with predetermined outcomes. This allows him to focus on other key tasks that are in tandem with his level of competence and avoid needless distractions…continued.

Remember, the sky is not your limit, God is!

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