Don't Be a Hoarder of Power
Ideas around giving away your job, scaling yourself, and investing in the success of those around you.
Happy Sunday, friends! If you’re in the US, I hope you’re celebrating a long, relaxing Memorial Day weekend with friends and family. Sharing some initial ideas today on scaling yourself specifically in the context of “giving away your job.” Feedback encouraged!
This phrase caught my attention a few months back:
You can’t be a hoarder of power within an organization.
I added “hoarder of power” to my lexicon. That’s one thing I decidedly did not want to be.
Then, like a new favorite song, I kept seeing the same idea pop up again and again in different contexts.
“If you personally want to grow as fast as your company, you have to give away your job every couple months.” (via “Give away your legos”)
“It’s not a flex to have undocumented knowledge about how something important works.” (via a friend well-versed in startup operations)
This is top-of-mind because I’m onboarding an amazing new teammate at Ness, and I’m looking ahead to a paternity leave for our third boy due shortly.
But first, why is this so hard? (At least) Two reasons.
First, it’s easy for information to become siloed inside of one person at any org if you’re not careful.
Two personal examples, one good, the other offers room for improvement.
When I was at Zapier, I spent several months wrapping my arms around the specific data our 12-person team had available in Looker. I built dashboards, weekly reporting - the whole nine yards.
The one thing I unintentionally didn’t do well at the start? Bring someone else along to show them how the whole thing worked. I was a bottleneck of sorts. It led to a very long handoff document when I moved on.
When I was at Automattic, I once led the Support side of a months-long process called a BFM - big frickin’ merge. We took a large chunk of features and code from the open-source project and brought them over to WordPress.com. This involved serving as a go-between our Support team, engineers, and end-users.
When the process was successfully wrapped up, I thought maybe I’d serve in this role for an extended period, carve out a niche for myself in this kind of cross-functional role. Perhaps great for me, but ultimately not the best for the organization.
Thankfully, the position was rotating. A new member of the Support team stepped in every few months spreading the knowledge and opportunities plus opening up the process to fresh eyes.
When faced with a complex project and/or a small team, it’s natural for one person to develop a more complete picture and thus potentially become a bottleneck in the future.
Second, there are emotions involved!
Being a bottleneck can feel good on some level, right?
There, I said it. When no one else knows how to do what you do, you’re “necessary”. Although not the good kind (more on that in a second).
This naturally leads to two kinds of bad behaviors:
Hoarding power. Preferring to be the only one around that knows how to do what you do. Job security, right?
Micromanaging. Since this is your thing, it has to be done your way. When you do hand it off, you still want to maintain control over it…because it’s yours.
So, how do you give away your job?
The alternative to hoarding power - sharing information freely and giving away your job regularly - is certainly the better option. Growing people, scaling your impact, and constantly tackling new challenges is the best way to help your company and yourself. It’s the actual flex.
Encourage documentation; offer ride alongs; stay out of DMs; celebrating success of those around you; and attaching yourself to the success of the org are all good options.
Specifically though, I wanted to talk through some ideas about the right way and wrong way to give away your job.
How do you know which jobs to give away? In The Effective Executive, Peter Drucker shares this question:
Which of the activities…could be done by somebody else just as well, if not better?
Ask yourself that on a weekly basis. In addition, dig in when you’re feeling stuck on a problem or when you’ve reached your local maximum. These are all areas ripe for input from others or handing off in general.
Who do you give them to? We want to set people up for success. Know the people around you. What are they strong at? Where do they want to grow? This can help inform who to give jobs to. This requires being invested in the success of those around you. Get to know them. Be curious. Ask questions in 1:1s. Pay attention.
How do you hand them off? Tossing jobs “over the fence” and moving on usually isn’t helpful. A better approach is to hand off jobs over time and offering yourself as a resource while the new owner gets up to speed. Make it clear you’re happy to answer questions if they get stuck.
In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, this is referred to as stewardship delegation. By contrast, Gopher delegation is faux delegation - “Here’s the process. Follow this to a T.” In contrast stewardship delegation is focused on the outcome and gives room for input. “Here’s the desired outcome and what I have in place thus far. Go make this whole thing better.”
David Perell shared 50 ideas that shape his worldview. Hock Principle is my fave.
This topic of “giving away your legos” called to mind another of my faves - “Who’s got the monkey?”