Simple-Minded Delegation


Recently, my mother told her gardener, Lincoln, that she wanted him to do a certain job in her yard. He dutifully began to work on it, while she went out.

An hour later, my father returned and decided to ask him to stop what he was doing, and start something else. Lincoln refused, mumbling something about “This is what the Madame wanted.” My father was not amused, and Lincoln would only relent when my mother returned and confirmed my father’s request.

Add in the fact that Lincoln probably didn’t have more than a primary school education, and was pretty simple minded and you might have some pretty idiosyncratic behaviour.

Yet, in a meeting at an insurance company the other day, they described the exact same behaviour from a worker receiving instructions from 2 different managers. Perhaps Lincoln’s behaviour was not so odd after all.

Where does this come from? Is it a vestige of slavery days, and a plantation mentality? Is it a good thing? What point was he trying to make, if any?

Is it the case that he was just too simple to be able to handle conflicting instructions?

Is there some way to harness his commitment in a positive way?

I’m open to ideas here.

2 thoughts on “Simple-Minded Delegation

  1. Anonymous

    I believe that the gardener showed a diplomacy and wisdom far beyond his humble response to your father. His message behind his actual response was possibly:
    1. I don’t arbitrarily drop work I promised to one to the spontaneous demands of another. My word is my bond and I hold no more loyalty to you over your wife.
    2. I am a subordinate. It’s not my place to make that call. To drop your mother’s request might cause offense to her. By asking me to do so after I stated that I’ve committed this to her is to imply that you are higher in priority than she is!
    3. It is your place to work it out with her. It is NOT my place to disregard her request in favor of yours. That would be presumptuous of both you and me to do that to her!

    In summary, I believe that your father was being short-sighted in this matter. How would he have felt if he did the same thing to him in favor of your mother? This humble gardener was both protecting his reputation with the both of them, more importantly, he was protecting his reputation with himself. Many less fortunate people ragard their word as their bond as their most important personality trait, no differently than anyone reared with a sense of honor.

    He was also teaching your father that he can be counted on for that same loyalty and reliability that he gave your mother.

    I hope this helps. Because someone is humble and disadvantaged in status and education doesn’t necessarily mean that he isn’t schooled in the meta values of human relationships. I hope your father and mother appreciate the wisdom of their gardener!

  2. Nicholas Mayne

    At the end of the day, the gardener would like to feel that he put in a good days worth of work and accomplished something. In addition to the reasons outlined in the previous post, his mind wanted to finish the current job.

    If the gardener had stopped and changed jobs, there would be expensive switching costs involved, lessening the level of productivity.

    It is important for managers to take into consideration the psychology of the mind of the worker.

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