Deficiency in Delegating

Mike rarely asked for help, and even when he did, he had trouble letting go.

I understand that fixation to solve a problem, as I’ve been there many times myself.

But part of being a professional is knowing where the line is, and when it’s time to seek a second set of eyes. Such practice is immeasurably beneficial, as not only can it help to solve problems, but it also builds bonds.

Sometimes all it takes is just talking it over, and I imagine that’s what Mike had in mind when he called me about a report he couldn’t get to work.

That was fine until the call went on for 2-3 hours (when I could solve the issue on my own in half that time — and did).

I had done this kind of report before, but it had been a while, so I just needed to get off the phone and refresh my memory. There’s a rhythm to problem solving, and two heads are better than one often works best.

This was not one of those times

I had the problem dialed in pretty quickly, and I politely tried to communicate that I would be happy to run with it. After all, he called to give me the rundown of the report and hand it over. He had the right instincts, but as he got into explaining the issue, he just kept digging into it. At some point, I was just sitting there as moral support.

Beating a dead horse is not prudent for any developer, but if you’re also in charge of a team, delegating is essential in the fundamentals of management. I had no vested interest in doing the report, and I wasn’t personally bothered by his reluctance to let it go. But such fixation is unwise — especially in a leadership role.

He never showed any sense of awareness of the disconnect between his conduct and the bedrock basics of running a team.

A leader looks for ways to capitalize on their resources to the fullest. A leader doesn’t cling to problems and crave satisfaction in solving them. I completely understand that craving, but there are sacrifices to be made when you take a leadership position. If you’re unwilling to make them, you’re not fit for the job.

It’s not as if you don’t get something in return for what you’re willing to to give up. Leaders elevate all those around them, and in doing so, elevate themselves and the organization.

I was relieved when he finally let it go so I could get off the phone and knock this thing out. I had the key problem fixed in a matter of minutes — the rest was just additional layers of the same deal.

It doesn’t mean anything that I knew how to do it and he didn’t. The roles could be reversed tomorrow, as often happens in IT. Just like on those date-range requirements — he saved me on that one, and the sheer beauty in simplicity of his logic was as elegant as it gets.

We all bring different backgrounds and experience to the table, and a true leader looks to harness that knowledge. But in Mike’s calculus, if he can find the time and wants to work on something, then he does so.

The smart move is to manage your time wisely, which sets the tone for the team.

When he shared the news the next day about the report being ready, he gave me credit. That’s admirable and I appreciated it, but it was a lost opportunity for leadership — one that could have changed the trajectory of the future on multiple fronts at Elara.

You can’t look at these situations in isolation. Bad habits breed the same — as goes for good.

There was nothing contentious about that situation, it was just not a good use of our time. That does not inspire confidence, and anyone in a leadership role should recognize that.

I have all these moments in my mind not because I was keeping inventory of his actions, but rather that I take notice of anything that could be done better (by me or anyone else).

Mike is on the other end of the spectrum, as it would never cross his mind to wonder . . .

Maybe I should have just let Rick run with that report right off. Why did I insist on trying to figure it out?

If he is not going to ask those kinds of questions, at least provide a channel for those who do.

Had he held one-on-one meetings from time to time and asked, “Do you see anything that I could be doing better?” — things like that report could be discussed in an easygoing setting.

How he handled that situation cuts to the question of what his job really is.

When doubling as a developer/manager, balancing those responsibilities should be key to your commitment.

By talking over that report without any undertone of tension, it could have helped shift his thinking on how to move between the modes of management and development. Addressing one bad habit, lends itself to looking at others, as self-awareness is like your own second set of eyes.

Had we used our time wisely, I would have polished this thing off much earlier. I didn’t care that I lost some sleep and I enjoyed helping out, so I wasn’t troubled by any of that.

It just struck me as strange that someone in his position would operate that way.

I have worked for developer/managers before, and there is no way that they would burn their evening on something that they could hand off to a qualified subordinate. This is the same guy who said that he didn’t have time to write cleaner code, but he’s got time to work till 9 o’clock at night on a problem that I already know how to solve?

And he was struggling with it for a good while before he even came to me.

Becoming fixated on something from time to time is one thing, but it became increasingly clear that obsession was another facet of his M.O.