Does the phrase “maxim divide et impera” mean anything to you? These words, meaning divide and conquer, were first championed by Phillip II of Macedon, ancient ruler of Macedonia and father of Alexander the Great.
While Latin colloquialisms may not mean much to you, the sentiment of this quote has endured for two millennia. Undoubtedly, delegation has been and always will be essential for success, because no one person can reasonably take on everything alone. Steve Jobs famously mused that deciding what to ask others to do was equally as important as determining what he should do.
If this is true, why is asking for help so difficult?
The hardship of help
Admitting you can’t do everything alone isn’t easy for most. For some, not wanting help can be rooted in fear. Others might feel asking for help is a sign of weakness or vulnerability. There are even some whose egos or cultural norms prevent them from reaching out.
No matter what is holding you back, the importance of delegation remains unchanged. Whether in romantic relationships, with friends and loved ones, or at work, you just need support sometimes.
When I consider the value of delegation, my thoughts go straight to small business owners. With big goals and tight budgets, this is who probably needs the most help and who grapples the hardest with taking that step.
No successful entrepreneur considers what they do as just a job. Their work takes passion and dedication, and is undeniably a significant part of their identity. This mentality can make asking for help feel like an even bigger risk because who they are is suddenly on the line.
At the same time, no business can thrive without some amount of delegation.
The hazard of too little help
Unfortunately, for those who find delegating challenging, the default solution is most often a doomed attempt to do everything yourself. No one will take care of your business like you can, right? As much sense as this seemingly solid rationale may make, this approach can quickly lead you into treacherous waters.
Going solo can be even more tempting for those who struggle with perfectionism. Perfectionists are easily disappointed by the work of others and prefer their own methods. They’ll gladly accept a heavier workload to ensure a job is done to their satisfaction.
In 2023, Thomas Keller, regarded by most as one of the most influential chefs in America, was interviewed by Guy Raz on his podcast, How I Built This. I chose this for the Listen in my January 2024 newsletter because in the course of the interview, Raz asked Keller about Rakel, his critically successful yet ultimately doomed, first restaurant.
He said, “My biggest mistake at the time was I, I thought I could do everything. And I realized after the failure of Rakel that I needed to have support, I needed to have people around me.”
He continued, “At the end of the day, it was on my shoulders once again that I didn't understand the structure I needed to operate effectively and, and profitably. And that was making sure there were people who had skill levels that I didn't have who were part of the team. A general manager who really understood how to run a restaurant. Somebody on the financial side, somebody who's actually understood the revenue streams, what we were doing, what we were spending.”
Keller attributes his early failures to two major mistakes: not asking for help and not hiring the right people for the right jobs. He thought he could do everything, and this attitude caused his career as a restaurateur to falter before it truly began.
The hand of help
Even though not asking for help is risky, giving up control can be difficult. The challenge is compounded when dealing with business owners whose personal reputations are on the line. There’s no surprise, then, that hiring support staff is often a nightmare for many professionals, including myself.
Despite the hardship of finding the right administrative match for your work style, doing everything yourself is nearly impossible. Even if you’re successful, chances are you’ll eventually feel burned out and bitter from the stress of going it alone.
You have to ask yourself, which is better? Not getting help, possibly not finishing your work, and driving yourself crazy in the process? Or delegating work so more gets done and your sanity, health, and well-being remain intact?
Admittedly, anyone you hire probably won’t do everything the same way you would. When you let go of small details that don’t affect the outcome, though, you might just achieve your goal. You gain more than you lose when you allow others to share the burden, and including more people in the process almost always enhances creativity and innovation. Better yet, there’s always the possibility you might uncover an unexpected talent when you allow your team the opportunity.
Regardless of where you are on your professional journey, help is almost always a buttress, not a roadblock. Don’t let your fears or ego keep you from seeking the support you need this year.