This morning I tested the theory of the distribution of labour.

I put myself into the hands of another service provider. Now I’m someone who provides services for a living but hey, you gotta do what you gotta do and in this case I simply couldn’t do the job myself.

I had to get to London and I hired a train driver, and his train, to take me there.

I let the driver get on with his job whilst I got on with mine. Neither disturbed the other, we both won. It’s obvious.

So the theory holds good when you can’t do the job yourself, but what about when you can?

Let’s say my daughter’s room needs tidying. (I know it’s a stretch, but just go with it). And let’s say for the moment that we’ve talked about it and she agrees it’s a good idea. Now what? We have some choices:

  1. We do it together
  2. I leave her to get on with it
  3. I leave her, but check in to make sure everything is ok
  4. I leave her to do it, check back in to see the progress, get frustrated, end up doing it myself

The fourth answer is definitely the wrong answer but it’s the one that plays out in thousands of bedrooms, boardrooms and meeting rooms every day.

Sometimes you may have to make sure the job is done the way you want it to be done and sometimes that may mean doing the job yourself. But not very often.

Learn by doing

Taking things into your own hands – whether that means doing it yourself, constantly checking in, or riding someone to make sure they do things your way – stops personal development and guarantees you’ll be elbow deep in grease every time this job comes up.

The slow way is to let them do the job themselves. It may not be perfect or done in the shortest possible time but the most effective way of learning – to drive the train, to tidy the room or to take any kind of responsibility – is by doing.

This probably means making mistakes. As long as it’s not life or death, that’s ok.

The slow way to manage is to separate the what from the how. Agree the what and let them get on with the how. They’ll develop, the organisation will develop, and you can get on with your real job.

The distribution of labour only works if you actually distribute the labour – with it we can go to the moon, without it we’d probably still be laying the concrete on the launch pad.

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