In ancient history, Athens was at war with Sparta. After Athens survived the plague, and yearly attacks on her homeland, the people began to regain confidence. The Spartans had agreed to a ceasefire of sorts for a few years. Athens decided it was time to flex some muscle and become the ultimate power in the Mediterranean. They would do it by defeating Syracuse on the island of Sicily, hundreds of miles away.
Athens had trained the greatest navy of the ancient world, they built the grandest galleys, and had the best rowers.
But Athens had a bad habit of killing their generals when they lost. In an effort to enhance their chances, they sent three generals with equal authority on this expedition, Nicias, Alcibiades, and Lamachus.
When the Athenians drew close to Sicily, the Athenians should have attacked directly, taking the Syracusans unprepared. But the three generals could not make a decision, one wanted to wait to gain allies, one wanted to attack, and the other, Alcibiades, was recalled to stand trial in Athens.
Alcibiades, it turns out instead of returning to his homeland, went to the enemy, Sparta. There he encouraged the Spartan assembly to join the Syracusans and fight against Athens in Sicily.
As a result, after three years and hundreds of miles, the campaign was lost, as was the whole of the expeditionary force. The galleys sunk, the survivors hunted down in the Sicilian wilderness.
Athens was on its way to ultimate defeat.
I have had times when I have struggled to make a decision, I know the clock is ticking, and that I need to make the call. But my personality dictates that I wait, and think, for a a few minutes at least.
I remember earlier in my career, I would make decisions about staffing, or about hours or pay with my team members out of fear. I was afraid they would sue me if I did something wrong. Don’t ask me where I got that idea, it just seemed to be the case.
I was afraid of making a mistake, and I was afraid of making someone mad. In doing so, I made some people mad anyway. It seems that some people will get mad no matter what you do. I gave an employee a raise once, because I thought she was expecting one, we couldn’t really afford to do it, so it was a small raise. She threw the biggest fit that she got such a small raise. The whole time I am thinking, I should have not given you the raise, then you could still be upset and I could keep my money too.
By making decisions out of fear, I hindered my ability to hire and work with the team I wanted. I slowed down the growth and progress of my business.
I hope I have learned from the Athenians that I can empower people to make decisions and that they won’t be penalized if they do their best. Learn from our mistakes, and don’t scare away your best team members because you’re afraid.
Thanks to Victor Davis Hanson’s book, A War Like No Other.
I saw Larry the cowboy again this last week. He attends my church, so I usually see him on Sundays. But seeing him this time reminded me of some more lessons he shared with me on horsemanship, and leadership.
He told me that horses, like people, need a few things to be effective companions and good workers.
Security. A safe place. Somewhere they can be comfortable and not feel harassed or in danger.
Friendship. Someone to talk to and get to know outside of the professional sphere.
A Leader. Not being afraid of confrontation. Knowing where you want to go and sharing that.
He also described one way he uses Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits in leading and rehabilitating his horses. He told me that he never appreciated the Seven Habits until he thought one day about his horses and how he could use it with them.
He said to First Seek to Understand. Before acting on a certain behavior, find out why, or what is causing the behavior. And then you can address the source, and not just the symptom.
Lastly, he said something that showed to me his passion for his profession. He said that a horse and a man are the ultimate team. They were meant to work together. They complement each other’s strengths and buoy up the weaknesses.
In summary, I learned from him that if I can provide security, friendship and be a leader, my team will be happy. If I seek to understand before I intervene, I will more likely help than hurt. And if the right team comes together, they can be…
I had an experience that allowed me to learn first hand how Not to receive delegation. I am 100% responsible for not addressing this up front, and I was as disappointed as anyone else with the results.
I dropped the ball for someone this summer. I was asked to organize a fund-raiser luncheon in a couple of months. We had a meeting with four of us and some assignments were made. The person in charge was going to make some contacts and get back to me.
I waited to hear from him. I didn’t move forward when I didn’t hear back. I didn’t get invitations out in time, or make contact with donors in time. I didn’t get the job done. I didn’t take the initiative. Looking back, I can see that I didn’t receive specific enough instructions.
We didn’t communicate very clearly who was going to do what. I thought he was doing something that he thought I was doing. It was like two people trying to go through the doorway at the same time and neither one taking the lead, so both of us just got stuck there in the doorway of opportunity.
Regardless, I learned much from this experience and I won’t let it happen again. I found this list a few weeks later and thought how much I could have used this earlier.
5 steps to effective delegation:
1. Make the assignment
2. Let the person perform
3. Offer assistance
4. Receive report
5. Commend the positive, correct any errors
1. Make the assignment: Be specific in what you want from the person. Give them the vision for the end result you would like. What should we both see and experience when this project is finished.
2. Let the person perform: Let them know how and when you will follow-up. If you intend to check in with them every week, tell them that. That way they don’t think you are micro managing them when you call them every Friday to see how things are going.
3. Offer Assistance: Give them information on who and how to get help. If you are providing help, let them know that they can come to you. I always try to remember to over communicate when in doubt.
4. Receive their report when finished: At a specified, when the project is finished or the vision is completed, sit down together and review the results.
5. Commend the positive results, correct any errors: Use the follow-up meeting as an opportunity to break down problems and successes. Make changes for next time.
What is your best delegation failure story?
(these are steps from the book Duties and Blessings of the Priesthood part B)
I got a new work bag.
I love it.
It’s light, and mostly empty.
My old bag was heavy and filled with junk I never used, but carried around everywhere.
Why did I do that?
I let the inertia of the old junky stuff drag me down everyday.
I learned three things about this experience:
1. Unload the junk.
When I changed bags, I only moved the stuff I use, my iPad, a folder and a portable hard drive. That’s it. All the magazines, and receipts and loose change can get lost.
2. Keep it up
I bike to work a couple times a week and use a waterproof backpack. So on a regular basis, every week, I transfer over my three items, cleaning out anything that accumulated in the bottom of the other bag. This keeps me on the straight and narrow.
3. Don’t look back.
My burden is lighter as I travel to work. I don’t travel very far, so I can imagine if I did how much more of a difference it would make.
Now I have also taken this attitude to the rest of my life. What other junk is laying around my house that I need to get rid of? There is plenty I need to work on. Or also how much debt is dragging me down? All of this feels the same, lightening my burden by reducing the unnecessary.
I feel more in control of my life since my wife and I started purposefully eliminating our debt, since I changed work bags, and since I realized I can simplify one step at a time.
What are you carrying that is unnecessary?