Tom Sawyer on Delegation

April 11, 2010 | By | Add a Comment

In ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’, By Mark Twain, the hero uses his delegation skills to get his pals to paint the fence for him – a task assigned by his Aunt Polly for his misbehavior.

His friends are inquisitive enough about his activity, he smartly recognizes the opportunity to ‘sell’ the task as something special. And he is so good at it that they buy their way, through some small offerings, into experiencing the paining job for themselves.

He makes it attractive through it’s uniqueness as well as the clever marketers tactic of its scant availability.

They are happy that they have achieved something special to experience. Tom is happy, because he gains time off the onerous task (as wells as the gifts) and, of course, Aunt Polly gets her fence whitewashed.

Delegation is its most ideal form – where everyone is a winner.

As managers, we can often take most of the typical workplace activities on ourselves. Then, because we are doing all the doing, we know it will all get done perfectly (at least in our eyes).

Yet, if we want to step up to the plate and evolve into true managers, we start to appreciate that the role
we have is about managing others to deliver and not to have to do it all ourselves.

When we have work that others could do perfectly well (and usually less expensively) we have an obligation to ourselves to let it go.

When we have work that might appeal to others for their own benefit too, we indeed have the makings of that win-win.

Now, we cannot expect our people to give us small presents to do our work for us. That maybe is a stretch
too far. What we can do is to encourage them to take on the work that we wish to delegate, by ensuring that it enriches their job, through being the type of work that they love.

And, where possible, where it will enhance their capabilities such that they will be much more attractive as
employees in this employment – and for new career opportunities in their future too.

Though you might not receive the various apple cores, kites and even dead rats that Tom was able to cajole from his friends as they enjoyed whitewashing the fence, you might be surprised how many of your people thank you.

Sometimes they may even appreciate you to others, just because you recognized that win-win opportunity, as you actively delegated work to them where they – and you – will benefit.

(c) 2010 Martin Haworth is the author of Super Successful Manager!, an easy to use, step-by-step weekly development program for managers of EVERY skill level. You can get a sample lesson for free at

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