"The surest way for an executive to kill himself is to refuse to learn how, and when, and to whom to delegate work," said James Cash Penney, founder of the J.C. Penney retail chain.
When you grow, you have to know when to let go. You have to know when to delegate down so you can rise up. The inability to delegate properly is the main reason that executives fail. I've learned that people will seldom let you down if they understand that your destiny is in their hands, and vice versa.
Delegating is a key management skill. But managers often mistake delegation for passing off work. Failing to effectively delegate wastes your time as well as the company's time and resources.
Personal experience starting and running Mackay Envelope Company, now MackayMitchell Envelope Company, taught me this. There came a day when we had grown to the point where I had to hire a person under me to run the company day to day, while I scanned the horizon, studying our industry and the company's future direction.
The reason? You don't want to be micro-managing and end up macro-mangling. The captain's place is on the bridge and not knee deep in the bilge. As the person steering an enterprise, you keep your head high and your vision unobstructed so you can study the big responsibilities, while maintaining authority and control. Many aspects of this art can't be taught. Pulling it off successfully can't be analyzed or quantified. But it can be qualified. If you don't get quality people, you're doomed.
Robert Townsend in his book, Further Up the Organization, wrote: "Leaders delegate whole important jobs. Non-leaders make all final decisions themselves."
Learning to delegate often requires a detour outside your comfort zone. How do you start delegating successfully?
A new hotel employee was asked to clean the elevators and report back to the supervisor when the task was completed. When the employee failed to appear at the end of the day the supervisor assumed that like many others, he had simply not liked the job and left. But then after four days the supervisor bumped into the new employee. He was cleaning in one of the elevators.
"You surely haven't been cleaning these elevators for four days, have you?" asked the supervisor, accusingly.
"Yes sir," said the employee. "This is a big job, and I've not finished yet. Do you realize there are over forty of them, two on each floor, and sometimes they are not even there."
Mackay's Moral: The most successful managers aim at making themselves unnecessary to their staff.