Re-Imagining the Workplace: Delegation and abdication as scientific principles

I get the sense that the survival mode has taken over and that for the workplace to reverberate back into life, there will be a need for a revolution.

I do not know but I get the sense that Africa and Zimbabwe in particular keep drifting away from the need to make the workplace work for humanity. I get the sense that the survival mode has taken over and that for the workplace to reverberate back into life, there will be a need for a revolution.

I am not talking about a revolution in a political sense but something to do with serious work based on scientific principles. I think we got stuck in archaic theories that need further investigations and unpacking for practical use.

A Human Resources Management under or post-graduate for example, will come across fancy stuff such as the hierarchy of needs, the JOHARI window, the Enneagram, etc. They will go home feeling learned and might want to throw one or two of these at their parents at home sounding pedantic at times.

The graduate in question will go to the workplace eager to see the implementation of these theories in their company, but my sense is that in Zimbabwe and other countries in Africa, people are too ‘busy’ to even listen to that kind of thing. I once alluded to a story where a dear friend said to me one day when I was in a conflict with a colleague, ‘Bheks, we are in the workplace to get sh*t done…’ That was to say you are too serious man. Maybe as you read you feel the same, that I am being too serious about something that needs me to focus on just making money. A boss also, once said to me, ‘BB, if you want to practice this your nice psycho stuff, you better go practice it in your own company.’

My concern is that as we ignore these principles we drift away from the possibility of the sublime in the workplace, or at least something reasonably sane. Someone might believe that there is no place for scientific principles in the workplace because they waste time, but this does not mean that they are exonerated from the ramifications, repercussions, and vicissitudes of these principles. In fact, what happens is that when we ignore these, they become more at play in our spaces, lives, and minds but negatively so. Science does not care whether you believe it or not, it will just happen on you and the rest of the world. It does not matter whether you believe that you will die or not, because you will die.

When such topics as delegation, and to sound more learned, even abdication are raised, it is likely that some managers who have been in the workplace for a long time, might think you are just about to start wasting their time. They have targets to meet and have no time to think about these big words. These words, as far as they are concerned are for varsity students who should also come to the workplace to shelve them and focus on work. These words, if you ask them, are too academic and pedantic and do not put food on their tables.

This is what leadership has done to the workplace, allowing a place that has so much potential to be reduced to a space of survival and sometimes even trauma. People sneak in, work, and sneak out in some if not most instances because, in my opinion, we have not invested in making the place a place that makes workers not only make money, but happy too.

I want to go back to my argument that even if we ignore certain scientific principles because we do not believe in them, scientific principles will still happen and not care whether they are believed or not. Those who do not believe are in a worse situation because as these things happen to them, they do not understand where they are coming from and what to do with them. A poor delegator leader who does not entertain the implications and results of failure to do it right, for, for example, will not understand why he overloads himself with work and feels angry that his subordinates are not helping him. He overloads himself when he has people at his disposal who are employed to take on certain tasks that he overloads himself with.

When most of his subordinates do not seem to be growing in their jobs, he insults them and says they are not serious when the correct position is that he has not exposed them to the tasks that he holds on to. He does not understand that he has trust issues, which he could have picked up in his past where he delegated and got let down by a subordinate and so he now sits there believing that he must hold on to every part of his portfolio. This affects delivery, effectiveness and efficiency and digs into the success of the organisation. It also robs everyone in that team, including the leader, of growth and gratification. Does it matter whether he believes it or not? No, it does not matter because we see the results of his ignorance playing games with him. Ignorance in these areas cannot be bliss.

The abdicator, on the other hand, might be on the other side of the extremity where he just spends all his time in a beer garden drinking, believing that a leader must just push all responsibility to his people and watch while they work. He has a bastardized understanding of the definition of a leader and can even quote it in their bar conversations to say a manager achieves results through other people. This needs to be understood and broken down within clear scientific principles. Being a leader is an intricate responsibility that needs someone to know which pieces to move in which direction, when and how. To take certain scholarly definitions and run with them as if they were the panacea of all ills can lead to oblivion.

Good leadership involves understanding people and there is a huge gap in the workplace of our time in that regard. As I sit there as a leader, I need to understand the implications of doing things in a certain way because doing them clumsily can have far reaching implications and affect businesses. Some workplaces are structured in such a manner that the leader is contained within a clear structure. Football, for example, is clear the world over, regarding who is positioned where and who needs to do what. During play, which is their work, they cleverly play within these positions and cover for each other when there are gaps. Next week let us use football and other sports to see what lessons other workplaces can learn from these structured type of workplaces and also explore the coach’s position as a delegator.

*Bhekilizwe Bernard Ndlovu’s training is in human resources training, development and transformation, behavioural change, applied drama, personal mastery, and mental fitness. He works for a Zimbabwean company as human capital executive, while also doing a PhD with Wits University where he looks at violent strikes in the South African workplace as a researcher. Ndlovu worked as a human resources manager for several blue-chip companies in Zimbabwe and still takes keen interest in the affairs of people and performance management. He can be contacted on [email protected]

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