Here at Mishpacha, we have no choice but to delegate
When I started working at the nascent Mishpacha Magazine, I took a lot of orders. My first job was translating — I’d get big manila envelopes in my mailbox with articles to translate and a list of deadlines for submission. Then I began doing editing work. Each piece came with instructions and a deadline.
Over the years I was assigned more and varied tasks, and got involved in more and varied projects. In a sense, one of the biggest shifts occurred when instead of taking instructions from an editor, I found myself giving instructions to a team member instead.
It was sometime around then that I learned one of the most important lessons in the school of management. The person who taught it to me is Mishpacha’s publisher, Eli Paley, and his version sounds better in his original Hebrew: Ein achrayut b’li samchut. Rough translation: you can’t give someone responsibility unless you’re also prepared to give them authority.
hat axiom might be the most basic bedrock principle of delegation, and therefore of any managerial position. But you’ll see it playing out in settings far removed from any office.
If you’re a mother of teenage daughters, you’ve likely encountered it many times. If you ask your daughter to bake a cake for Shabbos — meaning, you’re giving her the responsibility of carrying out a certain task — then chances are you’ve also given her the authority to decide which cake to bake, when to bake it, and what baking style to use.
If she decides to make a six-layer meringue/double cream/ganache concoction, and she chooses to do so at two a.m. on Thursday night, and her baking style involves dozens of ingredients, mixing bowls, spatulas, and specialty piping bags all on the counter at the same time, she is completely and totally within her rights. By dint of the responsibility she’s been given, she also has the authority to determine the means by which to fulfill her task.
If you’re not prepared to give her that authority, if you dictate every detail and ingredient to her, you may get exactly the cake you ordered. But if you assign the burden of responsibility without the privilege of authority, chances are also good you won’t have a volunteer baker available when Shabbos approaches again.
he same principle holds true for any manager who wants to delegate effectively. A boss who can’t give authority along with responsibility will torpedo his employees’ effectiveness along with his or her own. That kind of boss will forever be chained to the lower tasks on the corporate totem pole, because they can’t or won’t give their employees the authority to do them instead. They will also likely burn out their workers, and suck any creativity or initiative out of the office atmosphere.
A friend of mine was once hired by a very bright, driven, and opinionated man who wanted to broaden the scope of his business. She brought plenty to the table — experience, a large network, sophisticated communication and people skills — and was excited to invest all those assets in the enterprise.
But the bright and driven boss didn’t understand the basic principle of delegation. While my friend made phone calls, he listened from the next room, sometimes shouting comments or critique. For every letter or email she composed, he got out his red pen and showed her how he would phrase it better.
Despite her talent, energy, and goodwill, my friend could only last so long in the office; she had been tasked with the responsibility to carry out a job, but had never been given the authority to actually do it. Soon enough she packed her bags and moved on.
ere at Mishpacha, we have no choice but to delegate. There’s no other humanly possible way to produce such a large, complex, and sophisticated product every week.
Fortunately, we’ve been blessed with an unusually dedicated and talented team. It’s a pleasure to work with people who want this product to shine, and who invest their best selves in their work. But it still takes a certain degree of trust to say, “Here, this project is yours.”
When you delegate responsibility — and authority — you must be prepared to award the editor, or designer, or manager the resources they need to complete their task. One of the most precious resources you can give them is the authority to set terms — be they deadlines, word counts, style, standards, or even prices.
The other resource you can give them is the freedom to bring their own judgment, creativity, and talent to their task — the freedom to leave their fingerprints on their work, even though the bigger picture may be your responsibility.
That might mean that the project you envision a certain way turns out slightly differently. Or that the editor brings a different vision or structure to the piece they’re working on. Or that a graphic designer will show you a PDF that looks nothing like the image you sketched out for them.
Delegation doesn’t mean abdication. If you don’t like the results of their work, you can guide them to try again, or rework it yourself and show them what you meant. But sometimes — even often — you will be impressed and moved by what your team members produce. Sometimes your own vision will become more expansive and ambitious because of your team members’ aspirations. Sometimes you will do your job most effectively by staying behind the scenes and letting them shine.
Because they invest time, talent, heart — their very selves — in their tasks. And that’s the most precious contribution of all.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 949)
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