Arithmetic for Managers

August 26, 2007 at 8:58 am 3 comments

Once upon a time, in a land far far away, there was this young, newly appointed manager. He was bright, intelligent and an excellent problem solver. In fact he was twice as good at solving problems than any of his six staff – that frustrated him. He could not rely on them to do the work as well as he could.

Because he was so much better at solving problems than his employees (and he was indeed better. He was faster, more effective and what he fixed? Stayed fixed!) he attempted to solve all the problems in his department by himself. He micromanaged everything. He was swamped. No matter how fast he ran from crisis to crisis there were more problems than he could solve on his own no matter how many hours he worked.Then one day his mentor, an older, and wiser man who was still sympathetic to well meaning, but self destructive young managers, pointed out in the simplest arithmetical terms something the young manager had overlooked.

Even if he could solve twice as many problems as any one of his staff… there were six of them and only one of him. In other words, he pointed out that 2<6.

And if you took into account that the six employees were working without supervision, and they needed both guidance and coaching, then the situation was even worse… the resources represented by those employees were being squandered.

When I realized (oops… did I just let the secret out of the bag? Ah well, what’s done is done.) this – then learning how to delegate, and keeping my nose out of the work of my staff made more sense.

Yes… I know it sounds too simplistic, but if there’s one skill managers are usually deficient in, it’s the ability to delegate. And yes, the prime reason for this, is that they’re convinced that 2>6 and not the other way around.

illegitimis non carborundum


Entry filed under: Delegating, Management, Managing, Problem Solving.

Management in little steps The Mechanics of Tasking 1/5 — The insides of Delegation

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Bruce Stewart  |  August 26, 2007 at 11:12 am

    David Bolchover, in “The Living Dead”, goes further. He says that most managers were in fact superb at their previous jobs – technician, salesperson, whatever – and, thanks to the idiocy of a pay and recognition scheme that required they be promoted to management to be given more money (we “couldn’t possibly allow a subordinate to earn more than his/her superior!”: this is the engine of continuous pay band increments) the poor soul now is doing a job he/she hates: managing people. So they (a) try very hard not to have anything to do with those people, (b) do as much of their former skill set as possible and (c) when they must interact, find fault rather than develop the other person.

    It’s more, in other words, than learning to delegate. Managers need to truly want to manage people, and until they do this problem will continue, delegation or not. (You can give me the work to do and even stay out of my way whilst I do it, but you’ll get far more if you actually act as though you want us to succeed together. Otherwise, all you get is me doing what I must to draw a salary as one of your living dead.)

  • 2. technobility  |  August 27, 2007 at 6:11 am

    Greetings Bruce,

    “Wanting to do the job” is a necessity for any task. Practically any child who wants to ride a bicycle can be taught, but good luck to even the best teacher if the child being taught doesn’t want to learn.


  • 3. The Mechanics of Tasking 2/5 « The Sisyphus Chronicles  |  August 28, 2007 at 9:02 am

    […] They’re afraid the work won’t get done as well as they could do it. I won’t rehash old ground. Read this older post Arithmetic for Managers. […]


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