It may seem inappropriate to quote President Reagan in the title of this post. A well-written and frightening book I recently read, plus my ongoing fascination with the flawed rollout of, bring this aphorism (derived from an old Russian proverb, how’s that for irony?), to mind.

affordable care act

ACA signing –

Among the criticisms being leveled against President Obama regarding the web site rollout is that he was too hands-off as the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was under development. We can only imagine how busy the President is and how many critical things he has on his plate to deal with, but with ACA as his signature achievement, perhaps he trusted but did not verify.

Every manager needs to learn how to delegate authority to subordinates. Micro-managing stifles a team and slows things down; delegating too much can lead to trouble.The worst system rollout I was unlucky enough to be responsible for resulted–I believe now after years of thinking about it–from delegating too much; from trusting but not verifying.

We were implementing a new set of processes and software in our single US distribution plant. I was responsible for IT and my colleague was directly responsible for supply chain. As part of that, he assigned trusted subordinates to run the distribution project. These guys had both proven their capabilities in numerous projects, were considered high potentials and even appeared on our respective succession plans. We felt they could succeed us if we were ever hit by the proverbial bus (driven by Ralph Kramden? Sorry, had to throw that in ). We trusted these guys and delegated a lot of authority to them.

affordable care act

the web site –

Within days of going live it was apparent we were in trouble.  It took a lot of effort and time to dig out of the mess and get things right.

Among the lessons I learned was that I was too far removed from the project, allowing brief updates from my subordinate (the “everything is going fine boss” type) to suffice. (Hey, I was busy with a lot of other stuff).

While I cannot guarantee that more involvement from me would have prevented the problems we encountered, I believe that I would have caught some of the poor design decisions, and would have helped team members who sensed trouble to more easily speak out so that my colleague or I could intervene. My mistake: I trusted too much and verified too little.

Delegation is an art that is learned over time. A good manager wants subordinates to succeed. Giving up-and-coming staff members the opportunity to grow with appropriate guidance is perhaps the most important thing a manager does.

Finding the right balance between too much and not enough guidance is hard–but absolutely necessary. I learned–the hard way–this management saw: give folks enough rope to swing on but not so much that they hang themselves.

Let’s hope that President Obama finds the right balance and learns to trust a bit less and verify a bit more.