Complexity, Delegation, and a great Saturday Night Live clip


About an hour before writing this on Sunday night, I had one of those parent – although it could have been boss – moments.  Jennifer, Jack and I were driving back from Detroit and the weather was Michigan at its worst – a wet snow and dropping temperatures.  The usual 70 minute ride took three hours, as we forsook the parking-lot-expressway for slow and slushy surface roads.  My 18-year old daughter and a friend were planning to drive my 19-year daughter the seventy miles back to college – over the same freezing freeway Jen and I were avoiding.  I texted, texted and called: “Are you sure you don’t want to wait ‘til I get home and let me drive?”  I considered turning my query into a managerial command: “I am driving.”  Instead, I deferred.  They drove.

So, when do you assert control?  When do you retain the decision and power, especially if things are complex, and they may not have your experience?  When do you allow the chance of a mistake – that may cost you, the business, or even your own family’s well-being?  As every parent knows, and as too many bosses forget:  there is no right answer, no easily applicable rule to be applied to an infinite number of fact situations.  That’s a little scary.  It’s a little scary that Treasury Secretary Hank Paulsen is making a lot of these solutions up, experimenting with a situation no one’s ever seen before.  More accurately, the President has delegated this policy to him (for which some feel relieved), and Paulsen in turn is undoubtedly seeking and following the advice of others who think he should try this or that.  How much rope does he give them?  Such questions of how to deal with complexity, and whether to let the Gen-Xers or Gen-Yers handle it, abound these days in the workplace.  It’s a little scary to let those “kids” have the keys.

 On a serious matter like this, I turn to Saturday Night Live for great wisdom that’s buried beneath a spoof about  the “expert.”  You’ll find it here, and you can slide the bar over to 2:00 minutes remaining if you only have 2 minutes.  (I’d encourage you to do that now, and then come back for the exciting conclusion to this week’s RFL.)  The SNL spoof is funny but like most humor it’s funny because of the underlying truth:  In times of crisis, people desperately look to their managers – whether they are big or small, whether parental or presidential –to FIX IT.  But in times like these – especially in times like these where the problems are huge and complex – we need everybody to fix some things.

I am trying to raise kids who can handle tough situations and complexity.  I gave them advice: “DRIVE SLOWLY,” as persuasively as I could.  But I want them out in that world, taking it on, making decisions, making mistakes sometimes (I hope not tonight!), and learning.  And I want them knowing these things: I trust they can handle it, I’ll offer advice and I’ll be there for them.  I might have made a mistake tonight.  But there’s too many things in this world before them, where someone is going to holler at them “FIX IT,” and I hope that they are ready to fix it.   Perhaps more importantly, I want them at those moments to have the confidence to give the work back to those who need to do it with them – offering them advice, support, and confidence.

You’ll never be sure you’re right, but sometimes you gotta let go to

Lead with your best self,



  • Sometimes, just sometimes the generations xer’s and yer’s suprise you. They actual absorbed your examples across the years. Leading is doing but also leaving a legacy of examples and letting go. The hardest part is letting go.

    Thanks, for the pick me up this morning…have a good day.

  • Sometimes “just fix it” is the best advice, even when the problems are “huge and complex.” Take public education, for example. We don’t need more blue-ribbon committees, task forces, commissions, research studies, or panels. We know how children learn and what works in schools. There are plenty of excellent examples in Michigan, across the U.S., and around the world. All we need is the “right people on the bus” and then the willingness to get out of their way and let them do their jobs.

  • Thank you Dan, for bringing this up. You are correct that with grown kids, you have to allow them to live their lives, sometimes against your better judgment, which is often very hard to do. It requires trust that you’ve taught them well and they won’t take chances with their lives.

    What I see happening in the economic fiasco though is quite different. For the six years before Mr. Paulson was appointed Secretary of the Treasury in 2006, he was the CEO of Goldman Sachs, the largest trading partner of AIG, the lynch pin in the meltdown. When Mr. Paulson swooped in with his hastily drawn up, three page bailout plan giving himself sweeping powers and an arbitrary and astonishing 700 billion dollars to FIX IT, what I saw was not a solution, but a major conflict of interest. The people in these failing companies were his business associates. The American public was against the bailout 90-10.

    When Congress balked, Mr. Paulson ramped up the now familiar FEAR factor and the bailout passed with the promise to those who reluctantly voted for it that the vast sums of money given to banks would be used to unfreeze the credit market. Did that happen? No! Incredibly, no conditions were put on the vast sums given to these banks. They were not required to use the money to free up credit. It gets worse. While all the contentious bailout turmoil was taking place, the Treasury Department (Mr. Paulson) sneaked in a new, huge tax break for banks that buy other banks, to the tune of 140 billion. So instead of helping end the freeze as was clearly the bailout promise, the banks have used the money to consolidate their power and left the American public and the auto industry out in the cold and struggling.

    So it would be like you agonizing about your child driving safely back to school when in fact she took your car, stopped at bars along the route with her friends, went on a shopping spree with your credit card and then crashed your car before she got home.

    • Cecily,
      Now there’s a whole other can of worms, there. It’s hard to watch the Big 3 get this grilling for a plan, while Paulsen dishes out another $20 billion here, another $25 billion there.
      We should be tiring of the fear card by now.

  • I am convinced that real leadership faces “fix it” moments often with the consideration that any fix has to be teachable and transferable. In the present circumstances, most leaders will face issues that they have not faced before, so there is no magic recipe the fix. I hope that the faith that led you will guide you now. Just trust it.

  • I had a similar conversation Saturday night with my 21 year daughter who was supposed to drive on Sunday from Chicago to Ann Arbor. We both saw the weather reports. I suggested that she leave at 7:30 AM Sunday morning to beat the snow, while she did not want to get up so early and wanted to leave later. I forced the issue. She left at 7:30 AM, as I directed. This involved the physical safety of my child, even though she is now an “adult”. I believed that her approach was more dangerous and a bad choice. I did not and could not let this one go. I agree that as parents of grown up (almost grown up?) children in most instances we have to let them make their own choices and live with the consequences. But when it comes to actual physical safety and the possibility of serious accident, I come down on the side of issuing the managerial command. If your daughters had had a serious auto accident involving serious injury or death, would you have been able to live with yourself afterward? I assume they were taking your car, right? I draw the line when it involves a significant possibility of physical harm. So, bottom line–I disagree with you. In this case, my personal opinion is that you made the wrong parenting decision. And when all was said and done, my daughter thanked me for forcing her to leave early. As it was she drove through about 30 miles of bad snow west of Ann Arbor and afterward told me how uncomfortable it made her and how glad she was that the whole trip wasn’t that way.

    • Emily,
      I wouldn’t argue with you. My girls’ trip was much shorter than yours. Had I had your choice, I might well have done what you did. But at some time these kids have to learn this grueling kind of driving.
      In the work situation I think we often hold back from allowing our people to really go for it – in the ice and treacherous conditions. But some time, we need to let them try.
      Have a safe day!

  • Offering to drive a daughter back to college in a snow storm is different from President Bush giving the keys to the ecnomic car to Secretary Paulson. Bush is utterly unqualified to do what Paulson does. You are most probably better skilled at driving than a much younger driver, so not insisting that you drive is a judgment call between several variables, like who is the better driver, and how much do you want to risk when it comes to your daughter’s life?

    Bush has many specialists and managers working on the difficult economic situation. I watched the Detroit Three before Congress yesterday (12-4-08). To me it sounds like they collectively want more financial credit than they are worth. I cannot imagine that the Detroit Three got in this trouble over night, and the same for the many problems in the economy. This is not a new situation, it is only new in its size. Government officials often sit back as things get slowly worse and worse, because, one way or another thye can cover up the damage being done. Jennifer Granholm, if she would ever want to look back at the Engler Adminsitration again, I am sure could speak at length about how the state budget was being drained, while Engler bragged about cutting taxes. When have we had an industrial/ manufacturing policy? An energy policy?

    The UAW representative at the Congressional hearing made a very good point in that the federal government has allowed unfair trade, and currency manipulation to occur without any serious action. That is, the federal government’s polices, and lack of action is one reason the automakers are where they are. I do not want to lose Jennifer Granholm as governor, but she knows what is going on with our economy, because she inherited a mess from a government that sat back as things got worse and worse, while bragging they were so great.

    Mark John Hunter

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