The dangers of delegation! (A true story, with dog)

Photo of Bonnie, our Golden Doodle, waiting to be fedLast night, my husband fed the dog.

I usually do this, but I was busy, so I delegated.

With a certain amount of anxiety. Because, as all of us who delegate know, there are many potential pitfalls. After all, we’re the ones who know how to do the task correctly – right?

And sure enough, there were plenty of missteps.

  1. He didn’t wash the bowl. Argh. All those minute, invisible-to-the-naked-eye flecks of food that Bonnie didn’t vacuum / slurp / or otherwise scrub up when she was fed that morning were still there, inevitably contaminating her evening meal. OY!
  2. He grabbed the wrong dog food can. Bonnie gets two different flavors, and they’re supposed to alternate, first one and then the other. But noooo … he got the same one she had on the previous day. OY!
  3. He used the can lid to scoop out the food instead of a spoon. Seriously? Now his fingers were covered in – eww! – dog food! OY!
  4. And he gave her a bit more than the allotted half can. How could this happen? She’ll be hungry tomorrow because she won’t have had enough for breakfast! OY!

But let’s look at the reality.

  1. Bonnie is a dog. Yeah, it’s not a bad idea to wash the bowl in between feedings, but she polishes it pretty darn clean on her own. Plus, yegads, despite our best efforts, outside she eats sticks and who-knows-what-else. A very-tiny-itty-bitty-bit of leftover food isn’t going to poison her.
  2. Bonnie seriously doesn’t care – and probably doesn’t even notice – that she gets different flavors. All she cares about is that she’s fed.
  3. How is this my problem?
  4. A little more or a little less in any given feeding is so not a big deal!

Why is this relevant to leadership?

Show me a leader, and I’ll show you someone who’s struggled with delegation at some point.

Whether it’s the pervasive belief that “It’s easier to just do it myself” or “They won’t do it the way it’s ‘supposed’ to be done” or “I don’t have time to teach them how,” every leader finds reasons to hang onto tasks that someone else could – and probably should – be doing. (There may also be a subtle, possibly subconscious, territoriality going on: if I give up this task, do I become less relevant and important?!)

But part of the job of being a leader is to develop your team. And that means challenging them. Which, ultimately, means delegating tasks that they need to stretch into and learn.

Yes, you may need to teach them how.

But the time spent now will be saved – exponentially – in the longer term.

Yes, they’ll almost certainly do it at least a little differently.

But as long as the end result is good, do those differences matter? Really?

In the end, Bonnie was happy because she got fed. And that was the outcome we all wanted. The rest of it? That was just me getting wrapped up in details that really didn’t matter. And that’s 100% my problem and something for me to work on.

What about you?