Admin as avoidance of responsibility

Published by Tony Quinlan on

I’ve noticed that when I find myself micro-managing people or doing detailed work, it’s often because I’m avoiding the bigger or more difficult elements of my own role.

This year, I’m re-learning to hand off things for others to do. At this point, I recognise my role is to set direction, to coach and mentor others and to think about the bigger picture. (There’s plenty more than that when I’m engaging with clients, obviously, but I’m reflecting more on what I find myself doing on those occasions where I’m in the office with internal colleagues.) There’s no doubt that when I give someone a job to do that I have previously been doing myself, it comes back in a different form from how I would have done it – but then so it should. I’m finding that, once past my own ugly insistence on being right, there are benefits and insights available in seeing how someone else does it.

There is something to be said for occasionally doing detail or repetitive work – it can be a useful valve to keep engaged with work while my brain sorts through some of the bigger work in the background. (The ability to load up on concepts, then revert to manual or repetitive work is much written about when people have difficult issues to resolve.) In the old days, for all my griping about keeping accounts up to date, there was something deeply satisfying about sorting receipts and entering them into Quickbooks – it was a useful 24-hour shift in pace.

But even that is now in the past – the real job of someone at Director level is to do what only they can do, not what others in the organisation can do for them. So now, we have an excellent freelance book-keeper who comes in every few weeks, processes bills, receipts and bank statements and helps pull together invoices. She is faster than I ever was – and doesn’t have the emotional attachment to all the individual bits and bobs that the receipts represent. My doing it was, I can now see, holding myself back – there are other things that only I can do, and for the company to prosper, I need to be doing them instead.

So – a new warning sign for me to beware: if I’m doing too much editing of others’ work or micro-managing or detail work (and too much is anything beyond a few hours a month), then I’m avoiding what my real responsibility is. The question then becomes “what am I avoiding” – and then it’s time to grow up!

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