Don’t hire a dog, then bark yourself

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Sage words by one legendary ad-man (guess who it was in the comments).

He was talking about clients who hire ad-firms and then micro-manage the process to the point where the client is essentially doing the work it hired the ad-firm to do. Not because the ad-firm wasn’t good at it or didn’t want to do it, but because the client just couldn’t surrender enough control to let the ad-guys do what they’re best at.

While this example speaks to the relationship between a business and it’s service-providers, it’s really getting at a much bigger issue that affects all of our lives, whether we’re in business or not.

The more we care, the more we suck at delegating…

It’s almost a sign that we’re invested in what we’re doing. We care so deeply about how a task or project comes to life that we have trouble letting anyone else do even a little sliver of the work needed make it happen. Because, we can’t deal with the possibility that they might not do it the way we wanted. Problem is, any time you hold onto every aspect of something…

You necessarily limit its growth to what you are physically, mentally and emotionally capable of sustaining.

If it’s a business, it grows faster in the beginning, but then caps off more quickly, because there are simply not enough hours in the day for you to do everything yourself. If you are happy where it’s capped off, so be it. But all too often, we both know, that’s not the case.

An inability to delegate is tantamount to death, but…

Even worse is a willingness to delegate responsibility without also delegating control. What does that mean? Holding someone or some company responsible for a result, without also allowing them both the freedom and the resources to do the job you’ve supposedly empowered them to do.

This is especially destructive when you’ve hired them with the express understanding that they have the expertise needed to get the job done…if you’d just let them.

An example would be hiring someone to paint your home, because you’re too busy and then standing over them, telling them what type of paint to buy, brushes to use, techniques to apply and ladders to raise every step of the way.

It comes down to trust…

Simple fact, growth is always limited by what we are personally capable of handling at any given time. To get past this limitation requires trust. We need to either find or cultivate amazing people, trust they will do what we ask, hold them responsible for delivering on their promises, empower them with the means and the freedom to get the job done…then step back and get out of their way!

The job might not be done exactly how we would’ve done it.

Sometimes better, sometimes worse. When it’s done better, our lives just got easier. And, we’ve discovered resources that allow us to grow beyond the limitations of our own time and energy.

When it’s done worse, and it sometimes will be, we need to evaluate, provide feedback and make any corrections needed. And, yes, that might mean trying out somebody else.

What it shouldn’t mean, though, is taking the task back and refusing to let anyone else run with it again.

Because, in letting someone try again or giving someone else the chance, we’ve created the opportunity for growth. But, in repudiating our willingness to delegate, we’ve just reinstituted a cap on what we most hoped to grow.

Is this an easy thing. Heck no. I am a control freak and I care desperately about the activities I endeavor to bring to life. But, I also know that if I tried to bring every one one of the visions that constantly spiral around my head to life by myself, it would not only kill most of them…it’d likely take me down too.

So, if, you’re like me, here’s my challenge. Start small.

Designate one task that’s fairly minor, but that you care strongly about. Then, assign it to someone else who you know has the chops to do it, hold them responsible, give them the freedom to do it their way and let them deliver.

Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t.

Only one way to find out.

PS – did you figure out who said the quote that titled this column?

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12 responses

12 responses to “Don’t hire a dog, then bark yourself”

  1. Delegation: One of the most stressful decisions a true, classic entrepreneur faces. But to achieve goals, delegation succeeds.

    Now please excuse me while I go have a Valium 😉

  2. Oooh, this article came at just the right time. My challenge isn’t business related, but personal.

    I put my brother through school and have been paying his $800 a month student loan payment for the last 2 years. (There are a jillion reasons why this was a good thing…)

    Next month, I am letting that responsibility go, even though he doesn’t have a plan for paying it. I think it’s the hardest thing I have ever done…

  3. Being a control freak, delegating is a challenge for me. But I’m going to go for your challenge of delegating just one thing next month.

    Hayden, I know your brother will survive the surgery, but will you? Of course you will. I can relate since I have a few apron strings to still cut.

    The quote sounds like Seth Godin. Am I right?

  4. Jeffrey Fox!

    And, Jonathan, that quote reminds me of my all-time favorite book title, by another great ad man, RadioShack’s Lewis Kornfeld:

    “To Catch a Mouse, Make a Noise Like a Cheese”

  5. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ James – so, did it kick in yet? 😉

    @ Hayden – yeah, things like this become that much more complex when we bring family relationships into the mix and all the emotion that goes along with this.

    @ Flora – That’s how it starts, one little thing, test it out, then another.

    @ Shiela – Ok, the winner goes to…actually, there’s a bit of gray area about this quote. As it is written, it comes from Jeffrey Fox’s 2002 book. BUT, it’s really based on a quote by legendary ad-man, David Ogilvy, in his 1963 book, Confessions of and Ad-man.

  6. How true: The more we care, the more we suck at delegating.

    At the beginning, too much delegation is a bad thing, not because helpers aren’t helpful, but because there’s no better way to learn than getting into it up to the elbows.

    I want to know how to do up-to-elbows *and* delegate.

  7. Shana Albert says:

    I am terrible at delegating, Jonathan. I’m a perfectionist. If I can do something better myself…. why would I give it to someone else? Well, that’s how my mind thought for years and tries to continue thinking that way. But, the truth is that now I am so overwhelmed and stretched so thin that I don’t think I can possibly to it ALL myself and certainly not better than others. If I continued that mindset there is no way than any of my businesses would grow. I would be fibbing to say that I don’t feel that way anymore…. but I fight the thought.

    Excellent post as always. 🙂


  8. @ Shana – I think you may enjoy this post about handling perfectionism. You’re going to burn out if you keep trying to handle it all yourself, though I’m sure you know that!

  9. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Shana – tell me about it, I am the same way. I think a lot of people are in the same boat. I write this post, in part, to shake myself into delegating a little of what’s on my plate right bow. It’s the entrepreneur’s dilemma!

  10. Tibi Puiu says:

    I think the main idea here is trust and if you don’t have at least a few people around you that you can trust with some of your more pressing, day to day responsibilities, then you’re pretty much lost. Personally, I’m a very trustful dude, which from my experience is both bad (damn scams) and good; I guess it’s up to each individual.

  11. […] A good friend of mine is a total control freak.  She’ll fret over every single minute detail of everything, from dinner arrangements to business plans.  I keep telling her to relax and not worry so much, but that just makes her worry about worrying so much.  It’s a vicious circle.  The hardest thing in the world for some people to do is delegate responsibility, but it’s one of the things you have to learn how to do in the business world, or you’re going to run yourself ragged trying to do the work you hired others to do. […]

  12. […] sweat and tears that went turning what I wanted into a great-looking theme.  Bonus thanks to Jonathan Fields for this post, which I sorely needed during the design […]