Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Delegators in the Sewers (or, Delegator Gonna Getcha!)

Lately I'm finding myself highly irritable in the face of delegation. Maybe it's because I'm so often the delegatee rather than the delegator, but I do have some philosophical problems with the practice.

First off, it seems to me that delegation is most often driven by a dumping impulse: "I don't like this, so I will compel someone else to do it for me." Second off, it seems to me that inherent to delegation is the assertion "I am more important than you." In either case, delegation strikes me as driven by a heightened sense of self and a diminished sense of the other.

Now, maybe that's natural, instinctual even, and I should just learn to deal with it. Maybe I'm doing it myself and just don't realize it. And maybe I chafe against delegation because I myself am a horrible delegator and a people-pleaser who nevertheless likes to complain about stuff. (I'm a 9 with an 8 wing--mad props to the enneagram!)

I mean, it's not as though people hold a gun to my head as they ask me to sharpen their pencil or organize their e-mails. I could say no to their requests, even though I've been a yes-man for three-plus decades.

Nevertheless, being delegated to these days is not just a mild irritant, it's a crisis of identity and vocation. Why me? What is making people think they can unload their responsibilities on me? Or am I just putting the best spin I can think of on my own tendency to privilege my agenda over the agendas of others? Am I being too independent or too codependent? Am I being too proud or too meek? Or both? Or neither?

Maybe this is a developmental stage; maybe the inevitable transition from delegatee to delegator starts with this kind of rage against the delegating machine. Maybe I should take some baby steps, get in a little practice. Here goes: Who wants to mow my lawn for me? Anyone? Anyone?

10 comments:

2e said...

My bro-in-law is a tremendous delegator. He even makes me shuffled a deck of cards (I'm the yes-man delegatee). Anyways, he's of the opinion that the things he dislikes doing are actually things other people enjoy. At least that's how he keeps from feeling guilty about it. You could try that. Or just pay people to do your work; how much for the lawn?

Pete Juvinall said...

This will get your ire up:

Last weekend was a major upgrade for us that needed to happen at the worst time of the year (the week before finals). I had it done on Friday night and delegated some of the workload off to two co-workers and convinced the third one to watch Aidan while my wife and I went out for a date night. He (my third co-worker) teased me a bit about it and I jokingly asked one of the student workers to take care of my lawn while I was away to (he told me ot go jump off a cliff :)).

Of course...I worked until the wee hours of the morning....

David A. Zimmerman said...

Yeah, I think there's a difference between delegating out of need and delegating out of instinct. It's appropriate for my supervisor to delegate work to me--he is more important than I am--and people are finite and so will often have more work than they can handle. It's the delegation as power-play that bugs me. Boo hoo it's so hard being me.

Pete Juvinall said...

We're about the same age and I often wonder if it is that awkward in-between time of being in authority but not being old enough to realize it.

Still working on a college campus I don't really feel much older than the students I interact with but occasionally it'll drop on me that I'm a decade older than the seniors and I realize that I've been a professional for around 10 years or so and then it really hits me :). I'll second your 'boo hoo' :).

Margaret Feinberg said...

Not the lawn..but dishes I could help with :).

Margaret Feinberg said...

I hereby delegate that you should blog some more :)

Pete Juvinall said...

I second that...

Anonymous said...

I had a less cynical view of delegators, although I can certainly see examples of those who see delegation as a sense of superiority over another. I tend to see delegators as either "big picture" people, or "micro-managers." Either can be annoying based on your own personality - someone who needs a clear direction to accomplish a goal will be frustrated by a delegator that gives no specific instructions and is not interested in details, or how it gets accomplished. By contrast, someone who likes to be creative and independently solve problems will be frustrated by a delegator that tells him/her every specific detail to resolve a problem.

You probably delegate more than you think. If you go to McDonalds (or Taco Johns) and as for a Big Mac/no catchup/extra mayo/fries that have just come out of the frier/coke with little ice, you'd be a "micro-manager." If you say "#1" - you're "big picture." The person at the cash register has to adapt to each customer.

I could see how you might think it could be a crisis of vocation or identity, but I try to look at it this way: can mutual satisfaction be attained by doing what I am being asked to do? Can your agenda be attained by doing what the delegator is requesting? If the cashier is asked for a coke with no ice, he/she can do that and make the customer happy, then both agendas are satisfied. If the customer wants to pay less than the price, the cashier's agenda can't be satisfied, so they should decline. Personally, that's probably why I'm on job #4.

Interesting topic, Dave...

Brother Steve

David A. Zimmerman said...

Brother Steve's a supervisor. Not to be confused with Mr. Steve, by the way.

I'll grant that I delegate my food prep to the Taco John's guy (every chance I get, to be honest), and I'll admit (I already admitted, actually) that I was particularly mad and whiney when I posted this entry, but there's a difference between delegation within defined boundaries (it would not be appropriate for me to make my own taco at Taco John's) and delegation as an act of aggression. Taco John's takes my money when they give me a taco, and they reserve the right to refuse service. If I told my intern to make me a taco, by contrast, that would be inappropriate but also a highly charged power dynamic. She's hoping for a recommendation or even a job from me, she's only here temporarily whereas I'm effectively tenured. It's delegation as exploitation that gets me worked up.

Zeke said...

David, I need about sixty words, something suitable for a first-time comment on a blog. Subject: delegation. Something pithy yet thoughtful to announce my arrival. I want to make a good impression. Can you handle that by, oh, lunch tomorrow? Thanks babe.