doing the dishes

“I’m learning something so that I can teach it to someone else so I don’t ever have to do it again.” I recite the mantra to myself over and over. And it’s not that I don’t want to get my hands dirty or avoid work. Nor is it because I am shirking responsibility. But it is the way I think about delegation.

Everyone has their own way of describing it. Being less controlling, more trusting or just saying that one has to “let go.” But what is at the core of these responses to delegation? Well, most of the time, it’s because a manager used to be doing the job that he or she is now delegating. And probably, they excelled at it and long ago mastered the skills needed. So they can probably complete the task better and faster. And to add, insult to injury, someone else is going to get the reward and praise.

So, I keep reminding myself. Every task I complete is learning so that I can teach it to someone else. True, I feel less a sense of ownership of somethings at times, but that allows me to delegate it when I need to without any “separation anxiety.” And in my experience, the trade off is worth while and it rarely effects the quality of the outcome as learning something thoroughly enough to coach someone else requires a mastery that produces excellent results.

As a new manager, we are taught project organizational skills which calls for breaking a large problem into smaller discrete work efforts. We then assign a different person to each and call this delegation. However, handing it out tasks is equivalent to being told to take out the garbage, clean up your room or doing the dishes. And no one likes to be told to do the dishes.

Instead, I remind myself, delegation isn’t about the task, it’s about the responsibility. Yes, sure, there are times when the chores need to be done and someone will need to do them. But providing the sense of ownership to someone else is really the litmus test for proper delegation. So, it’s not a surprise that people rarely complain about increased responsibilities; most complain about additional work.