Home

Never Allow Your People to Delegate Upwards

Delegate Upwards

The more hours the business owner works, the less his business is worth. The curse that besets many business owners is that they think that they can do everything better than anybody else. It leads them to work below their pay grade instead of focusing on what they need to do to build equity value in their company.

This is partly because of the temperament of business owners and partly because it is their company. The most damaging aspect is not that they end up working harder because they take on more, but that they accomplish less of the things that really matter as a result. This affects the value of the business….after all, why would somebody come and buy your job from you?

The temptation is strong to do things yourself because it is easier. What makes it worse is that your employees are continually asking you to do so. Resisting this temptation is very important, and it requires a state of mind to do it consistently.

One good technique is to use the phrase "never delegate upwards" when somebody comes to you with something that is below your pay grade. I remember all too clearly when that happened to me and how it affected me.  

Years ago, I was personal assistant to Sir Timothy Bevan, Chairman of Barclays Bank. I was working for him on a specific project, and while the project was important to him, he was a difficult man to get hold of. He wasn't just in a different pay grade from me, but in a different pay grade universe.  

He knew who he was and knew the value of his time, and really wasn't interested in solving what he saw as my issues. I remember one time I was stalking him for about a week, trying to get to him to make a decision on something so that I could move forward. Finally I did get a hold of him and explained my issue and what I needed from him.

He simply looked at me, said "never delegate upwards", and started working on something that was on his desk, giving me a clear signal that the interview was over and that I should remove myself from his office. Years later, I can't even remember what the question was, but what happened has stuck with me ever since.

Though Sir Timothy's style was autocratic, challenging and not motivational in a 21st Century sense, he gave me the freedom to make decisions and challenged me to think for myself rather than forcing him to make decisions that he didn't need to make. It saved him time and it certainly challenged me to be a better employee.       

If you can train yourself not to get sucked into situations and decisions unworthy of your time, that is a big win for you. If forcing employees to think for themselves makes them better and more valuable employees then the win is magnified incrementally.

A good place to start is by using the phrase "never delegate upwards" in your arsenal.