By Frederick Mordi
A long time ago, there lived a wealthy king named Dionysius. Despite his great riches and fame, the king was far from being happy. He lived in perpetual fear that the people, who called him a tyrant behind his back, could one day, plot to dethrone him. For this reason, he was often gloomy.
His friend, Damocles, who thought that rich people are the happiest in the world, jokingly said the king must surely be swimming in the ocean of happiness, given his stupendous affluence. Heartily sick and tired of his friend’s constant compliments on his wealth, Dionysius, who knew where the shoe was really pinching him, one day, suggested to Damocles:
“How about swapping places with me?”
But Damocles quickly replied that he wanted no such honour for himself. He said he only felt that with enough money, one would live a very happy life.
“If I could only have your riches and your pleasures for just one day, your majesty,” added Damocles, “I should not want any greater happiness!”
At this, the king replied: “Very well then, you shall have all my wealth for one day!”
Damocles was ecstatic when he assumed the role of ‘king’ the following day. True to his word, Dionysius commanded all his servants and guards to treat Damocles as their ‘king.’ And so Damocles received the royalty treatment as the king had decreed. He had everything he wanted at the snap of his fingers.
While feasting on a lavish meal on a carefully laid table, filled with an assortment of rich wine, with cool music serenading his senses, Damocles by chance happened to look up and he froze at once. Dangling dangerously directly above him, with its point almost touching his head, was a sharp sword that was hung by only a hair of a horse’s tail. The sword seemed as it if could fall on him at the slightest movement.
The smile quickly faded from his lips as he turned white with fear. Suddenly, the food, the wine, and the music lost their appeal. He wanted nothing more in the world than to dash out of the palace.
Noticing his friend’s discomfiture, Dionysius asked: “What is the matter?”
“The…the sword!” Damocles cried. He was careful not to move.
“Of course,” replied the king, in a tone laced with sarcasm, “I know there is a sword above your head, and that it may fall at any moment. But I have a sword over my head all the time! You have been there for just a few hours and you are quivering like a leaf! Power comes with risks.”
“Please, let me go,” pleaded Damocles. “I have made a terrible mistake! I want to go back to my poor little cottage.”
Damocles never again envied the rich as long as he lived. That was the origin of the expression, the ‘sword of Damocles.’ If the sword of Damocles hangs over somebody, it means they are in a position where something bad may happen to them soon. The dilemma of Damocles appears to be succinctly illustrated in Proverbs 15:17 (KJV), which states: “Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith.”
The saying applies in the workplace, where a CEO, for instance, may have the sword of Damocles hanging over his head for making a wrong decision that adversely affected the company’s fortunes. Not many of his lieutenants would be willing to trade places with him when he appears before the board of directors to explain the company’s poor performance.
Indeed, one may not know the burden some people in certain positions of authority are carrying on their shoulders, until one gets close enough to them. Little wonder, Shakespeare’s Henry IV once said in Part II, Act III, Scene I: “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.”
By Frederick Mordi
In 1919, the year he received the Nobel Prize in Physics, the world-famous German physicist, Prof Max Planck, who propounded the quantum theory, embarked on a nationwide tour, where he presented his papers to the scientific community.
Legend has it that on one occasion, Planck’s chauffeur, who now knew his presentation style by heart, offered to trade places with him, after the Nobel laureate complained about giving too many lectures, to his driver.
“By now, I have heard your talk so often that I can give it myself,” said the driver. “Why don’t we change places? I’ll pretend to be the physicist and give the talk, while you pretend to be the driver.”
Planck thought it was such an excellent idea and agreed.
And so the next time the renowned professor went for another presentation, it was his driver that gave the talk on his behalf, while he sat quietly among the audience. The chauffeur put up a splendid performance, until an egghead asked a question that he had no hope of ever answering. But instead of admitting this, the chauffeur famously replied:
“I’m surprised to hear such an elementary question on high energy physics here in Munich. It’s so simple, I’ll let my chauffeur answer it!”
The central point of this conceivably apocryphal story, is delegation. Many people find it difficult to delegate even simple tasks to their subordinates, due to a variety of reasons. But the current realities in the workplace, for instance, where a manager is often saddled with many responsibilities as part of cost-cutting measures, make delegation very imperative.
Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson show how effective delegation can be done in a work environment, in their best-selling book: The One Minute Manager. According to the book, there are three secrets to becoming an effective manager.
The first secret is having One Minute Goals. This involves a brief meeting between the manager and his subordinate where they agree on goals, which are written down in an equally short statement, and reviewed from time to time. The aim of the exercise is to ensure that both of them are on the same page.
The second secret is One Minute Praising. The book encourages managers to shower encomiums on their subordinates when they are doing the right thing. This should be accompanied with a simple handshake, the authors counsel.
The third strategy is the One Minute Reprimand. This is the delicate part that most managers do not handle quite well, according to the authors. They say the one minute reprimand should point to the specific task the subordinate did not perform creditably, and should be followed by a reassurance that the subordinate can do better next time.
“Effective managers manage themselves and the people they work with so that both the organisation and the people profit from their presence,” the authors note.
A number of small businesses, world-class companies and institutions are said to use The One Minute Manager techniques in their operations. Such organisations reportedly have a record of high productivity, improved job satisfaction, and invariably increased profitability.
An expert on organisational communication and lecturer at the School of Media and Communication, Pan-Atlantic University, Lagos, Dr. Mike Okolo, who describes delegation as “the downward transfer of authority from a manager to a subordinate,” identifies some reasons managers often fail to delegate.
“Managers may simply lack confidence in the abilities of their subordinates,” he points out. “Managers may experience dual accountability and thus refrain from delegating because they are insecure about their value to the organisation.”
Okolo lists a number of steps to successful delegation:
“For successful delegation, managers need to take some steps if they want to succeed. They must match the employee to the task; be organised and communicate clearly; and should transfer authority and accountability with the task.
“Managers must also choose the level of delegation carefully by specifically assigning tasks to individual team members, giving team members the correct amount of authority to accomplish assignments and making sure that team members accept responsibility.”
While it is doubtful if a typical professor would allow his research assistant—let alone a mere driver—swap places with him, the lessons from Planck and his driver, and The One Minute Manager, may be quite helpful both in the workplace and other spheres of life.
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