12.19.2005

RANT: If your boss is reluctant to delegate

It's obvious to most people that if you want to be successful, you'll have to give up the notion that you can do everything yourself. But it's not as obvious how one would rather sit on time-sensitive tasks than delegate to subordinates at work, while s/he doesn't hesitate to delegate the tasks of mowing the lawn or washing the car at home.

I had an opportunity to explore this issue in a recent interview. When asked about his weakness, the candidate said something along the lines of "When I first started working I couldn't delegate and would end up micromanaging... over the years I've learned to develop my direct reports... and only if the schedules weren't being met would I take a more hands on approach..."

"So in general, why do you think managers are reluctant to delegate?"

Here are some points we came up with

  • "What happens if something goes wrong?"
    • "Easier to do it myself": no time/energy to teach the task and then follow up.
    • "I can do it better": the manager knows what needs to be done and believes he can do it better and faster.
  • "This is the only way I know to keep my nose to the grindstone"
    • "Why change now? it's what I've always done": the manager tries to stay in the comfort zone - cling to accomplishing even the smallest tasks himself until he gets drained, overwhelmed and lose focus.
    • "I'm not much of an idea-person": e.g. the manager is action-oriented and afraid that delegation might leave him with nothing to do. Incidentally, he also complains constantly about working long hours.
  • "What if the subordinate does too well?": many managers, especially rookie managers, often have a lack of self-confidence. Incidentally, he also tends to play down existing accomplishments of talented subordinates.
    • Delegation = smaller territory: fear for loss of authority + credits. He tends not to believe turf sharing.
  • "My boss got to where he is with minimal delegation": Lack of role models. aka the "monkey see, monkey do" syndrome.
    • "I believe in the principle of subsidiary": the principle of subsidiary stipulates that you can do everything except the following list, whereas the principle of delegation stipulates you cannot do anything except....
    • "What's in it for me?"

Category: C++ Quant > Fix the Job You Got

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