November 2013 – Managers – You Are Doing the Wrong Things!

Managers – if you don’t know how to delegate you had better learn how to do it fast or find something else to do. I am seeing this delegation issue over and over again as I work with planning and community development departments around the country. As suggested by Ray Attiyah in his new book, The Fearless Front Line:

“Leaders are committed to improving and growing their businesses, but all too often they find themselves mired in operational details and daily issues, leaving no time to pursue bold visions. While managers are stuck in the front line, they’re not leading or pursuing activities that propel growth and innovation.”

The way I would say it is, they have no time to manage. Here are some stories and concepts I show in my teachings. I hope these will help you look at yourself and get the message.


Delegation looks like a pie with one slice missing. That small piece is the manager’s piece. Which piece do you work on first? The manager’s piece or the operational piece? The answer I get from many managers is, “I am so bogged down in daily activities, the operational piece, that I have no time for the management piece.” But, you must do the manager’s piece first. Let me illustrate with this true story.


This was a high volume organization with six staff working the front counter. When things got real busy the manager came out to help. Was this good or bad? I told the manager that the next time I saw her at the counter I would take her back and chain her to her desk! Why would I do this? The front counter staff were not well trained, good procedures were not in place, some were not suited for counter service, and there was no clear mission or understanding of the mission – all management issues. She could spend all of her time at the front counter and things would not improve.

Of course, if the management issues were dealt with, then I welcome the manager helping out in a high volume situation.

 Keep in mind that in today’s organization most managers will also have operational assignments. But, they must not let the operational assignments take precedent over the manager assignments.


Harold Hook, the creator of a management course called Model-Netics characterized it this way. Think of a triangle with the wide part at the bottom and divide it into three horizontal parts. The larger lower part is called “check, do, and report”, the next layer is just “do and report”, the final small layer or piece is just “do”. The idea in delegation is to rotate the triangle so that the “do” becomes the large part and the manager has time to truly manage.



                             Ray Attiyah talked about a similar triangle calling the lower part “Run” or the daily activities. These are the ones that need maximum delegation. This then allows time for the next two layers which he calls “Improve” and “Grow”.



I once had a job with the Dean of MIT’s planning school running his Brookline consulting office. The first day on the job he drew me this diagram. It started with his having most of the authority and responsibility. But the goal was to rapidly move up the line to where I had most of the authority and responsibility.



Harold Hook also developed a concept called “answers in search of questions.” Many managers have lots of answers if they can just find a staff person to ask them the question so they can show how smart they are. Many of these questions should be answered by the staff without asking the manager. Next time that happens to you, take a deep breath and say, “Get the hell out of my office, you don’t need me for that kind of question.”


It is not unusual that an employee is an excellent operator and then is promoted to manager. However, they may have no interest in management and aren’t very good at it. A few years ago we worked with a planning division with a head chief planner who said he told the appointing authority he would only take the job if he didn’t have to manage. You can imagine the results. We need to learn to pay good operators good salary to remain good operators and choose managers who want to manage.

You can do it. Give it a try.

The Management Doctor

Reader Responses


Celeste Deardorff, AICP, Division Manager
LR Planning, Lakeland Community Dev. Dept.

This is one of your all time best reports.