An experiment with delegation

I recently attended one of the best talks I have been to in Oxford. It was a talk by Felix Dennis of Dennis publishing. He is one of the most famous self-made billionaires in Britain. And to his credit he can do much more than just make money. He is a great poet, a philanthropist and in my opinion, a great orator.

At the talk, he spoke about his life story, some lessons that he has learnt and what he plans to do ahead. In question and answers he also gave a brief picture of what it takes to be an entrepreneur. I was particularly impressed by an answer that he gave in response to a question of how to deal with employees. He said:

I am only really good at two things. First is recognising talent. I can say within a very short time whether someone is suitable for a certain task or not. Second is delegating. And by delegating I don’t mean giving work away to someone so that I don’t have to do it. What I mean is really delegating, letting that person handle the task on their own, giving them the space to work and making them understand the expectations I have of them. I’ve seen very few people delegate work effectively.

Although, I can say very little about recognising talent (which on occasions all of us do), there is something I can say about delegating. For any of us who has been in a position of responsibility (however big or small), where we lead a team to a complete a task, we will know that delegation is a really important aspect of the job. It requires us to understand the other person well enough to assign a particular task to them and to be able to ask them, in the most effective manner, to do that task for the team. In most cases, there is also a degree of trust that needs to be present

Looking at my previous experience with delegation, I realise that I am able to do it and to a certain degree well enough. And I say well enough because according to my definition (not Dennis’) delegation means getting someone who to do a certain thing for the team. In that regard, I have definitely managed to get a fair amount of work done.

But according to Dennis’ definition, I feel I have utterly failed at it. That’s because very rarely have I come across a piece of work that I have delegated and which has come back to me in a way that serves the set purpose best. I tend to feel that it could be done better or sometimes, that it would have been better had I done it.

Clearly, there is something I need to change about the way I delegate work. And I think after listening to that answer by Dennis, I realise that I can definitely improve on communicating my expectation of the task that I am about to delegate.


Delegation is important. Credits:

Here’s what I think I will do: when delegating a piece of work, I will ensure that I will give the person doing the job as much detail as possible about what I expect as the outcome of the job. After that, I will set a deadline for the task and then give them complete freedom to do it on their own. And at the end, I would request them to let me give them some constructive feedback about the task they just completed.

I think this in many ways should improve the quality of work that I receive on delegation. With this freedom, of course, there comes some added responsibility on the person doing the job. And I think that is what can serve as the true driving force of some quality work.

The feedback idea should also serve the purpose well because it then gives the person who has been delegated the task a chance to reflect upon what they have done and take in the feedback in much a better setting. Doing this at the end is advantageous, of course, because they don’t have the pressure to finish the task. Additionally, it is a better setting because interrupting someone while they are doing something is very inefficient (and I realise that because I have done it on some occasions).


Finding sources of motivation

Motivation to do something acts as that driving force which helps us through every phase of an activity. It gives us the energy to initiate the task, then to continue through its ups and downs, and finally also to bring it to an end.

Without the right amount of motivation, doing anything feels like dragging yourself down a road that you don’t want to walk. I am sure you can all relate to this feeling especially when as teenagers you were asked to do certain things by your parents without a good reason, for example cleaning your own room 😉

Additional motivation always help us to do something better or faster. Or at least that is what you feel happens when you feel that wee bit more motivated.

I don’t think I have to give you more reasons to convince you that motivation is an important factor in our everyday lives. I have spent quite some time in trying to understand this mysterious force with a wish to know how can I harness it better.

After speaking to many people about their source of motivation, I can conclude that almost always people have multiple sources of motivation. And it is not surprising that there are many common sources of motivation. We are all human after all. I’ll enlist a few:

Some positive sources: the desire to constantly improve (to be a better person, a better scientist, a better father or a better son), to achieve higher pleasures of life (happiness derived from completing a massive project, from helping someone or achieving a big goal)

Some negative sources: peer pressure (if she can do it, why not me? admittedly it can be a positive force sometimes), fear of failure (almost always bad and which causes so much anxiety).

Some of these sources may have struck a chord with you (like the one in the picture). And may be that after reading this short list you may not be surprised because they are very commonly the sources of motivation that many people use.

But my exploration has helped me find an additional source of motivation. One that I have used many a times unknowingly. That source of motivation comes from my constant quest to find a new source of motivation. It’s as if I treat my motivation to do something as drawing from a motivation bank. And because I treat it as a bank, I tend to look for sources that can replenish this bank.

And I don’t think I am alone in that quest, people seek new sources of motivation all the time. See for example what Alex says:

A friend told me that she had a three-tiered approach to motivation: First is motivation from the cause itself, but this is simply not enough to sustain motivation indefinitely in all situations, so the second layer was motivation from fun: the work itself should be enjoyable, but it’s just not possible to always make work fun, so the third tier was friendship: that you would work through tough times buoyed by friendship with colleagues and co-workers.

Have you got any sources of motivation that you could share with us?

What if you could control the drive within you?

Anything you do gets done faster and produces better results if you have the drive to do it. A drive that pushes you, that sets new limits and that forces you to seek new sources to power yourself.

When you see someone with that drive within themselves, you can immediately recognise it. They have a different persona: they are brimming with confidence, they bring great enthusiasm to the table and they make a difference to the people around them. Their work is a source of inspiration to their peers or to the generations to follow.

There may be many reasons for why you have the drive to do what you do. It may be because that thing is on your to-do list, or it might be something that you have wanted all your life, or anything in between. The drive might exist because of some fear that has been troubling you or because of that anxiety which you find unsettling. It could stem from a desire to take revenge or simply because of an inspiration to do something for your loved one.

Whatever may be the reasons, having the drive to do something is a powerful tool to be able to leverage. Not only does it give you an edge over your competitor but it also gives you a lot more pleasure in what you do. It makes you feel that the effort you put in to doing something is worth it. That drive enables you to overcome the pain to experience the joys.

Now here’s the million dollar question:

What if you could control your drive, turn it up when you want?

I don’t claim that I have the answer and to be frank, it will be hard to convince me that there is only one answer. Each individual will have their methods to crank up ‘the drive’ they possess. And I think it is good to have more than one absolute way of being able to create a powerful force within you which will help you achieve your goals.

I certainly have my multiple ways of generating that drive for myself. One that I would like to talk about today is the method of raising the bar or the method of trivialising the achieved.

Here is how it works: Say you have just achieved X and have now you set yourself a new goal Y. You can now generate that drive to do Y by reflecting upon your previous achievement, X. You find ways of convincing yourself why Y, if achieved, will be a bigger achievement than X. That is a perfectly sound reason for you to push yourself to achieve Y. At the same time you may also find aspects of X which you can consciously trivialise because now you have the skill/confidence to be able to do X again. For Y though, you will need new skills and extra confidence. Another reason for why you should go after Y given X has been achieved.

The drive generated by this method can be as strong as you want it to be. You will have to put in the effort to better reason for Y over X.

The biggest advantage of this method is that it can set in to motion a machine that generates ‘a drive’ for you. All you need to do is make sure you fuel it up when necessary. Fuelling the tank up shouldn’t be that hard, after all it is a simple trick that you consciously play with your own mind.