Why delegating is key to performance

Hugh Farmar

Hugh Farmar

A chief executive was in the habit of calling his senior staff into his office once a week and talking at them for two or three hours.

He would raise policy issues and argue three different positions on each one. He rarely asked his associates for comments or questions; he simply needed an audience to hear himself talk.

This method helped him convert a small and mediocre family business into the leading company in its industry. What he was doing was learning by talking.

This story is told in Managing Oneself by Peter F. Drucker (pictured). He said there are probably half a dozen different ways to learn – talking is just one, reading and writing are another two.

The important thing according to Drucker is to find out which way you learn and then act on this knowledge. If you know you learn by talking, then you should ensure that you talk subjects out, like the chief executive, not try to think them through on your own. If you don’t, your performance will suffer.

Drucker also argued that we should discover what our strengths are through feedback analysis. This entails logging decisions and actions we take and what results we expect. Nine or 12 months later he said we should analyse the results compared to our expectations. This will show where our strengths lie.

Once we discover our strengths we should put ourselves where they can yield results. If you are a good speaker but a poor writer you shouldn’t try to write for a living. It sounds obvious but it is surprising how often people make this mistake, and the results can be painful to watch. Ambition and ego win out over self-knowledge.

We should then try to improve those strengths and waste as little time as possible improving on areas of low competence. Drucker thought it took far more energy and work to improve from incompetence to mediocrity than it did from first-rate performance to excellence. Delegating or seeking help in areas of our work we can’t avoid and where our competence is low, rather than struggling with them, is one solution.

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