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Letters to a General Superintendent (Part 2)

What follows is the second letter in a series of letters supposedly written by an owner (Jack Owployer) in response to a general superintendent’s (Joe Gensup) request for something more than the typical job description. Though the company had provided a generic job description, what the Superintendent needed and received was much more personal and heartfelt when compared to the sterile notion of do’s and don’ts so commonly emphasized, throughout our industry.

Dear Joe:

In my last letter I closed by warning you not to fall into the trap of doing someone else’s job. You will recall my insistence that you avoid doing anything that others can and should do for themselves. I followed by insisting that you resist the notion that in order to get something done right, you must see to it yourself or, even worse, do it yourself.

It is a common pitfall among managers to suffer from the delusion that in order to get something done right, they must do it themselves. Delusion is a strong word but appropriate when one considers this state of mind and the consequence of management making this dreadful mistake. I also warned you not to get pulled down into the maze; I urged you to hover above it and fully utilize the unique perspective that doing so provides.

Let me give you another rule that is similar yet slightly different: Avoid doing anything that someone else can do, as long as there is something that you alone can do, needing done. This is one of the fundamental laws of delegation. Consider this guideline as you are faced with the multitude of tasks that attempt to seduce your attention and distract you into playing a lesser role than what is intended for someone in your capacity. Focus on your unique responsibilities, and see to it that those you manage do so as well.

You have a job to do. You have a critical role to play. As you strive toward working within these guidelines, you’ll find that there is always something that you and you alone can do. Do it and delegate the rest!

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

According to this time tested proverb, it is better to teach someone how to do something than it is to do it for them. I couldn’t agree more. Strive to develop independence among your subordinates. You will be better off, and you’ll be doing them and the organization a huge favor. Yes, it takes time, but the time spent is well invested. If you’re fooled into the shortcut of doing things for them, you short-change everyone involved. Teach them to fish!

You must groom and develop subordinates so that they become self-sufficient. That is a perfect example of what I mean by a “unique responsibility.” That’s an area for which you alone are responsible. Don’t forget it! Stuff that obligation under your hard hat and keep it there. That is one of your primary objectives.

In order for the organization to function well, you will need the support that subordinates are intended to provide. You can’t do everything, and you wouldn’t want to even if you could. If you are running yourself ragged with no sign of relief in sight, don’t be fooled into thinking of yourself as some kind of organizational superhero. The truth is precisely opposite. You may well be the villain! Though you are well intentioned, you’re hurting yourself, your subordinates and the organization.

Over time your subordinates become a reflection of your management. Don’t blame them for who they become under your management. With rare exception, they are a byproduct of your leadership. Teach them independence, not dependence. The organization ultimately needs to be able to function well without you. A great manager builds an organization that functions well in his/her absence.

Pay attention to how things go when you take a vacation or sick leave. Do things continue to operate well, or do you come back to a mess that you have to straighten out? If things fall apart when you leave, you have not managed well. You must work through people to get the results the organization needs and depends on—consistently, with or without you.

Let me add a word of caution here: You can’t be lazy. You must be willing to get your hands dirty, to lead by example and model the behavior you intend to develop in your subordinates. Delegation doesn’t mean you don’t work; it means that you identify your unique responsibilities and focus your energy on them. Meanwhile, you are also making certain that everyone else is taking care of their unique responsibilities.

You inspect what you expect. You hold your subordinates responsible and make sure they are getting the results they are expected to deliver. All the while you must stay focused on the role of a general superintendent. After all, that’s why you were promoted.

Don’t get tired of hearing the word “proactive.” It is good medicine. A proactive manager works on next week’s potential problems this week. That way next week will have fewer problems and you’ll have time to work on the following week’s or even the following month’s problems. By working in that mode, you will find your job keeps getting easier and easier

Ask yourself what you need to do now so that you won’t have problems later. Then, do that. Don’t stay in a firefighting mode. Merely reacting is a terrible way to spend your time. Though you must react to problems, problems should be rare. Firefighters only spend about 3 percent of their time fighting fires and the other 97 percent of time goes toward fire prevention. Reverse that and the consequences would be catastrophic. Put the fires out and go to work on fire prevention.

That’s it for now, I’ll write again soon.



Doug Bellamy is former president of Innovative Drywall Systems Inc. dba Alta Drywall, Escondido, Calif. He is known for his original thought, innovative approach and the personal development of unique processes, systems and procedures. He is available for consultation, business management seminars and training. Visit him on LinkedIn or contact him at

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