Hello there, fellow control freak: the person who can’t seem to let other people do anything themselves, because you fear they’ll screw it up. Because they can’t do it as well as you.
Do I have your attention? Excellent, because we need to talk. You see, there’s a problem. And that problem is you. Not your talent or ability, but your insistence on doing everything yourself.
You’ve become an operational bottleneck, slowing down all of IT. Projects and change requests stack up at your desk because you have reached your scaling limit. You’re overworked and stressed out from all the things you’ve taken on.
You don’t mean to be a bottleneck. You don’t want to be. But your workload has gotten out of control, and it gets a little worse each day, each week, and each month.
How did you get into this situation? Could it be that your ego is in the way? That you subconsciously thrive on being indispensable? Perhaps you enjoy martyrdom — you get a perverse satisfaction from being the hero that goes out of his or her way when others can’t or won’t. Maybe you’re insecure, and feel you must hoard certain tasks to remain valuable.
I have been this person: The self-imagined hero. The martyr. The one who’ll do everything and more. Eager to please, taking on too much, and feeling secure because I was bringing value to the company.
Heck, I used to rack heavy equipment by myself, just to be that guy who’d take it all on his shoulders without bothering anyone else. Carefully balancing hardware that cost more than my car with one hand, I would lean into the rack, lining up the mounting brackets against the post holes. Magnetic screwdriver at the ready, I’d gently guide the screw into the threaded hole with the other hand — delicate work.
Get it wrong, and the screw would fall into the black abyss at the bottom of the rack, never to be seen again. Get it really wrong, and crossthread the screw. Or worse, jam something sharp into a fleshy thumb. If you look hard enough, you can find my blood smeared on the insides of a rack in a data center in Salem, New Hampshire.
No Heroes Required
While it might feel good to be the hero, the fact is that indispensable individuals are bad for IT operations. It took a coworker (and friend) to tell me it didn’t have to be that way. He’d help me rack gear anytime I needed, and not simply because he was charitable, but because it was better for everyone if we worked together to maximize our efficiency. And he was right.
Since my days of racking gear solo, I’ve learned to think differently about working on a team.
I invest time in others. I will spend as much time with someone as they need to learn a task. I’ll document, train, and mentor others, and then let go. True, in the beginning it will be faster to just do the task myself. But in the long run, the workload can be more evenly split, and more people on the team have technical knowledge.
I delegate when possible. If I don’t have to do something myself, I don’t. There’s always plenty of other work to be done.
I trust others to do what is asked, and allow them to fail. The only way to stop being a bottleneck is to get out of the way. And that means someone else might not succeed at every task. That’s how I learned. That’s probably how you learned. And that’s how they’ll learn, too.
Some of this might seem risky, and you’re right. Obviously, you need to coordinate with your management about this approach. But a wise manager will be thrilled that you’re willing to spread your knowledge to others in the company. When you’re a bottleneck slowing things down, that’s bad for IT. And that’s bad for business.
My thanks to the authors of The Phoenix Project for Brent, the character who inspired this post.