Insulation vs. Empowerment

As your business grows, the amount of problems that you are accountable for quickly exceeds your ability to handle those problems as a single person. You step back and think… “I should hire someone deal with some of these problems.” Hiring provides increased leverage and reduces your required accountability. More excitingly, you can delegate problems you’re less excited about, making your job more pleasurable. Most people think about hiring in this way.

Unfortunately, if you think about delegation as a layer of insulating yourself from problems that you don’t want to deal with, you are doomed to failure.

Here’s how things start to break down.

The person you’ve just hired has less context, power, and social capital than you. On day one, their output (as indicated by the size of the gray box) is going to be much smaller than yours. Transitively, their ability to manage the unexciting problems (as indicated by the size of the red box) is also smaller than yours.

On one hand, you feel as though you have more leverage. Your increased focus on the exciting problems has given you fulfillment and you have internalized your increase in output as progress. On the other hand, the amount of attention on the unexciting problems has decreased. Further, because you have insulated yourself from the red box, you have less visibility about those problems.

After spending some time in this mode, you make great strides on the exciting problems. However, one day, you peek around the gray box and look at the state of the unexciting problems. Things are in disarray.

Here’s what you have learned:

  • The accountability of dealing with unexciting problems always rolls up to you. No matter how much you delegate, you may never unhook yourself from accountability.
  • By insulating yourself from a set of problems, you have simultaneously decreased your output against and visibility into those problems. You have metaphorically swept your problems under the rug and have convinced yourself that the problems are handled.
  • Your short term pleasure in getting to focus more on the exciting problems is hedonistic and irresponsible.

The red box has and always will roll up to you. You must always have visibility into the state of the red box (never insulate). However, this does not preclude you from hiring to help solve these problems. The goal of delegation is to increase aggregate output on a set of problems while preserving visibility and accountability.

You must empower new people to work alongside you to solve problems instead of using them as a layer of insulation to hide from your responsibilities.