HBS Working Knowledge looks at a great issue this week – when to delegate.
You know that a key part of any executive's or manager's job is helping subordinates develop professionally—including honing their problem-solving and decision-making powers. Thus, you're well aware of the dangers that come with taking on all of your direct reports' problems. But what about when you're under immense time pressure and someone tries to hand you one or more monkeys—the memorable term for subordinates' problems that William Oncken Jr. and Donald L. Wass introduced in their classic 1974 Harvard Business Review article, "Management Time: Who's Got the Monkey?" In high-pressure circumstances, accepting a monkey can seem a lot more efficient than taking time to coach your employee to resolve the problem himself.
I think one of the hardest jobs in management is deciding which tasks to keep and which ones to delegate. I tend (unfortunately) to the side of doing more myself and just working extra hours, rather than let a subordinate screw it up. Yeah yeah, I know this isn't a good habit to get into. I'm working on delegating more, but the tough part of owning a business is that no one cares about it as much as I do.