Argo suit yourself: Why delegation is better than ‘command and control’

While running short-term risks of failed delivery and embarrassing delays, loosening the grip on operational controls yields bigger chances of project success

On February 24th the whole world will be tuning on their television sets to witness the unravelling of the biggest movie extravaganza known to man, The Oscars. The academy-nominated movie Argo has been a central topic of discussion and speculation among many in the movie circles this year. In the movie, a CIA operative facilitates the rescue of 6 US diplomats from Iran by posing as a movie producer from Canada. At a critical juncture, it looked like the plan was about to fail when one of the six stepped ahead and “improvised the plan” that ultimately turned things around and made the operation successful.

The improvisation sequence presents some essential learning tips for a project manager.

Help your team know what their role means for the greater goal

What Tony Mendez, the CIA agent who was leading the operation, did right was to instil the sense of empowerment among the participants involved. The industry expert and column writer, Tim Barry, reasons in his article, “Top 10 qualities of a project manager,” that the top quality of a project manager is to inspire in his team a ‘sense of shared vision’. Barry quotes from a concept from the renowned leadership thinker Bennis, “shared vision helps participants gain a view of what a task means for their jobs and for their lives.”

Instil belief

Unconvincing as it was, and packed with immense risks, Mendez’ plan was to bluff their way through the rebels who had taken over the airport. At various points of the movie, Mendez was noticed telling the six that if they wanted to avoid their nails being pulled out of their fingers they needed to start “believing” in the characters they were assigned.  C. Trent Rosecrans, a sports columnist wrote an article, outlining his research on what makes a good baseball manager. Beyond field formations, the right player allocations, and timing, Rosecrans argues that most of the sporting fraternity is unanimous on the view that a good manager’s role is to facilitate ‘belief’ among his players.

As it turns out, it was this belief in the plot that helped the actors in Argo stay true to their role in the operation. One of the six, who was assigned the role of illustrator stepped ahead and gave a 5 minute narration on the movie through the illustrations as if they were his creations. The act demonstrated a kind of honest passion that only someone with ‘belief’ could have pulled off.

So what are the benefits of empowerment for a manager apart from having successful projects?

1. Lesser headaches— Empowered team members will not feel cowed by the need to ask for “sign-offs” for every small and big decision in the project. Not all decisions will be right, but anyone doing something wrong has a greater possibility of owning the process of getting it right.

2. More time for the important stuff— A manager can dedicate more time to “ideate” and identify improvement opportunities rather than spend all his time in the “regular operational stuff”.

3. Greater chances of success— Research indicates that managers who empower have more engaged teams and have a higher probability of professional success compared to their “command-and-control” counterparts.

Many may ask, “How do I, as a manager, make sure that someone feels responsible and empowered when s/he comes to me asking what’s to be done?”   As it appears, it’s perhaps not such a bad idea to just say, “Suit yourself.”


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