Crisis and Creative

A personal obligation — doctor’s appointment — kept me from attending a meeting at the library this morning.  I was busily feeling bad about that until I had a conversation with one of our IT staff as I grabbed a breakfast sandwich on my way to my office.  We were just chatting about learning curves and transitions and deciding when things are a crisis and when they’re just going to have to be handled by someone else…

And I flashed to this post, The Crisis and The Creative, by Rands in Repose, that I read last week.  He starts by saying, “If you polled my team about my daily agenda, they’d say, “He’s either running to meetings or in meetings.” Glancing at my calendar confirms this: 14 meetings this coming Monday – double-booked for five of them. Sweet.”  Okay, yes.  I’m hooked.  That’s me.  I read on.

The part I liked most when I read it last week was:

Whether it’s Crisis or Creative, activities in these buckets run hot. Whether I’m making sure that someone isn’t going to quit or I’m jump-starting a brand new project at a time when no one has a free second, when I’m working the edges, it’s fast and furious. The issue is that I’m responsible for a lot more than just the work that’s running hot.

See those boring lines in the middle between Crisis and Creative? That’s an important part of the model. Items in the middle are the silent non-Crisis, non-Creative responsibilities that are my team just making it happen. It’s all very important work, but it’s work that occurs with very little investment from me because I’ve hired, manage, and work with competent people who excel at what they do. The middle isn’t responsibilities that I’ve delegated and need to check up on, this is work the team just does, and to understand how to get the work there, you need to understand the edges.

And what I realized as I stood there, waiting for my sausage-and-cheese-on-an-english-muffin-please, is that today’s meeting, unavoidably double-booked with my doctor, is about something that I had delegated (or my predecessor had, actually) that had reached a crisis and needed checking up on — but I didn’t have to be at the meeting to do it.  I needed to declare that this crisis could be solved by someone else, people who are competent and excel at what they do, so long as they reported it back to me when they’d figured it out.

Because, really?  I need to finish some Creative work.   I really really really need to finish some creative work.  Performance goals.  Vision and mission planning. Strategic reorganization.  Service and communication plans.

And I’m the only one who can do those things.  I’ll need help, and will be consulting and revising and editing for a while — but I can’t consult, revise, or edit unless I have the things down on paper.  And I can’t put them on paper if I’m hopping from crisis to crisis.  I have to trust the middle, and I have to let the middle handle some of its own crises.

And I do trust them; I work with wonderful people who are very good at what they do.  But I suspect we’re all testing each other’s boundaries a bit, figuring out where The New Boss wants to be involved, needs to be involved, and is willing to be involved.  So I’m going to set a boundary for myself.  Let the middle work.  Ask the middle to manage some of its own crises.  Divide my time more evenly between Crisis and Creative.  It’s the only way to make it work, I think.

And the giant piece of paper covered in marker-ed post-it notes that represent the possible ways we might reorganize our administrative structure won’t get more interesting on it’s own, so I need to give it some love.


  1. Delegate often. Insist your subordinates stop CCing you on little operational crap, and pull the puppet strings from a distance when things get to a boil. Worry about the Big Picture most, and the details only when it’s apparent that they’re being neglected.


  2. A former principal at Salmon River Central School had a plaque on his desk which said: “A good manager has only two things on his desk: his feet.”

    The sexist assumption that only men are ever Managers aside, I like the message. Managers are supposed to do less actual “doing” and more ensuring that the doing that needs doing is being done. (OK…now I’m dizzy, so I’ll shut up.) 🙂


  3. Romeyn,

    I like the quote a lot!

    There are unfortunately some “weak” managers who are really afraid of delegation, or they delegate and then they micromanage, which adds overhead to the initial manager’s work and to the person the tasks are delegated to.

    Delegation is an art, and a good manager is someone who delegates almost everything, because, IMHO, this is the best way to get promoted to upper management.


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