Upward Delegation

At 8.30 am while we were animatedly discussing the state of the state with Sarika during our morning walk, I got a call from Ashish. Without any preamble he started off breathlessly “Didi, bus nahin aaya. Main khada soon Galleria ke paas, our 8.30 ho gaya, bus nahin aaya. Aap phone kar do school ko.” (Translation – the bus hasn’t come. Am standing near Galleria and its 8.30 already, but the bus hasn’t come. Please call the school.) Ashish is a master at upward delegation !!


Ashish does the cleaning and upkeep of our house. He has two children and his daughter is a good student. We have been paying the fees for both his children for the past two years. This year his daughter managed to crack the exam at VIDYA school, Gurgaon. VIDYA school is an esteemed partner of ShikshaDaan. We interact with the principal and the CEO (an ex-colleague of mine from Aon Hewitt) regularly and were thrilled when his daughter could join the school.

Unique ability – Upward Delegation

We realised early on that Ashish has this unique gift of making us work :):). Mind you, he keeps our house spotlessly clean. He is a true dust buster and feels miserable if I reduce his work, but he is also great in upward delegation. He would come over and say please pay my wife’s phone bill online. Ok, that’s not difficult to do, but the difficulty is that it has to be done right here, right now, preferably before he utters the request. He went to the school and was told that a form had to be filled for availing the bus facility. He just came back and told me – “please fill the form for the bus” :).

I explained to Ashish later in the day, that I can’t call up the Principal if the bus doesn’t come at the designated hour. I have asked him to get the phone numbers of the bus driver and the transport manager so that he can call them up when there is a delay. His daughter is growing up to be exactly like him ! She will send me a WhatsApp message about issues she faces in the school or some textbook that she needs, but she won’t call up her class teacher to find out.

Upward Delegation @ Work

A manager would think that upward delegation doesn’t happen at work, but it happens and with regularity ! Some of the junior colleagues and direct reports hone this skill by disguising it as “asking for guidance”. You need a presentation to be made and they will bring their laptop to your desk and start asking you “guidance” questions. Sometimes, its a genuine request for help and please help at that time, but if this becomes a regular feature, then stop it right there.

Incompetence is hidden by delegating upward. I can never forget a manager sitting down and drawing up the schedule for a visiting dignitary when that work was to be done by her direct report. She figured out what food to order, transport arrangements and even stay arrangements because the incompetent DR, just wouldn’t get it done. Tolerating incompetence is a crime. A person is incompetent in a role, not incompetent overall. By doing his/her work you aren’t letting them find what they are competent at.

The biggest reason to not become a victim of upward delegation is because it will eat into valuable time. Time that has to be spent on better work. It also breeds incompetence, favouritism and stunted career growth for the junior colleague/team member.

Found a good article on this topic – How to Deal with Upward Delegation.

Remember Lao Tzu’s teaching – Give a Man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. Upward delegation should be nipped in the bud.

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