Why you shouldn’t do it all yourself

One of the hardest things to learn in management is how not to do it all yourself. People often call this a problem with "delegation". But the problem isn't with telling others what to do. The problem is learning how not to do it all yourself.

I talked earlier about how my style is to Trust and Empower, but I didn't talk about why that's hard or even why I chose that style.

Why is it hard not to do it yourself?

  • Satisfaction.You do it well and it's always satisfying to do something well.
  • Kudos. It's hard to give up kudos. People have always told you how well you do it, and now you are supposed to let someone else do it. And you won't get credit. (Actually, I think managers do get credit for what their teams do.
    Their job is to make sure their team actually gets the credit.)
  • Quality. If you were the expert, it might be a while before someone else on your team learns to do it as well.
  • Speed. It might take a while for someone else to learn how to do it. And they might do it slowly for a while.
  • Urgency. The issue might not seem as urgent to the person you delegated to. You might have to remind them a lot, which takes time. (They might also be slow because they are afraid to start, don't have the right tools, etc.)
  • Your way. When you give it to someone else to do, they might decide to do it differently. It might not be the way you've always done it. The way you know is right. (And you might be right. Or they might come up with something even better. Who knows?)
  • Your time. Sometimes giving it to someone else to do can take longer than if you'd just done it yourself. (Coaching, helping, reminding, …)

Sometimes I feel like people think I should do more and encourage others less. The reason I don't do more (even though there are times I'd really love to just do it myself) is:

  • Growing the team. If I do it all myself (write all the press releases, lead all the projects, make all the decisions) then we will be constrained by what I, one person, can do. (And just getting information from everyone and passing it on to the right people would mean that'd I'd spend all day sending emails or in meetings.) By delegating, or recruiting others, and empowering them, we grow the team to be much more than me.
  • Better results. If I do it all myself people are less likely to give me feedback. If we do it together, we get more people involved, more skills, more feedback and we end up with a better result. (And I have no doubts we already have an amazing team that can do not only more work than I can, but lots of things that I don't know how to do.)
  • More results. Don't break what already works. For example, GUADEC is an excellent all volunteer run conference. There is no reason for me to step in. It's better for me to let others continue to do a great job and I can help with other things that may not be working so well. (I did offer to work with sponsors as the sponsoring companies had told me that it's confusing to be approached by multiple people throughout the year for different events. That's something I can help with and hopefully build into a process that is less time intensive … see the next point.)
  • Success. If I do it all myself, the GNOME Foundation will always need me. I hope to be part of the GNOME community for a long time but I think you do the best job you can when you work yourself out of a job whether it's because you solved the original problem or you automate everything. There's always more work to do, more problems to solve. You shouldn't be solving the same problems year after year.

Encouraging, empowering (and reminding) people takes a lot of time. The more you work to get
others involved, the less time you have left to just do it yourself. But in the
end, you end up with more done overall. And an excited, motivated, knowledgeable team that can do way more than you could ever do by yourself.

So Trust and Empower. And encourage and remind.

7 Replies to “Why you shouldn’t do it all yourself”

  1. Couldn’t agree more. I’ve been an advocate for some years of allowing the team to determine it’s own direction, thus alleviating the amount of weight on my own shoulders. Often, I merely set goals and let them work amongst themselves on how to achieve those goals, encouraging them to continually ask themselves where they want to be, and what they want their workplace to look like 3-5 years from now. Because it is their future, they are going to someday be the leaders and they need to be cognizant of the fact that the world they create is going to be the world that they are eventually going to be responsible for. Of course there are times (as I’m sure you’re well aware) that you may have to offer advice, or actually step in and alter the course a little, because at least for the time being you’re ultimately responsible for the outcome. But I think all of this helps them obtain a higher sense of ownership, and in the process convince them that their contributions and decisions actually matter and are integral to the end reult of their efforts.

  2. Yes, as long as you clearly state at the top that it was written by me and
    link back to the original post. I hope your readers enjoy it.

  3. Sounds like another good reason never to become a manager… I’m much happier doing as much as I want, whenever I want.

  4. I wish more people would realize when they are happy!
    I think a problem at most companies is that the easiest way to get promoted,
    more recognition or more pay, is to become a manager. (I did once have an
    lead developer who said he wanted to be a manager. I asked him why and he
    said he wanted more money. I was tempted to point out to him that he made
    more than I did but instead I showed him the pay ranges for the two jobs. He
    changed his mind. Now granted the next level of management made quite a bit

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