Many years ago I read Dr Stephen Covey’s seminal work ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’. It made me think about the crucial difference that exists between being efficient and being effective. I came to define efficiency as ‘doing the job right’, whatever the job was. Effectiveness, on the other hand, I defined as ‘doing the right job right’.

The principle reminded me of my first job. Back in the early 1970s, long before we had computers in the branches, I took a job with a bank. It was a junior post doing very basic tasks. The manager of the branch was a very august gentleman who always turned up at about five minutes to nine o’clock; every day come rain or shine.

Armed with a cup of tea he would then spend half an hour filing the pack of customer statements that had been generated by our head office and couriered to the branch. I did wonder why the manager would perform such a menial task and one day curiosity got the better of me so I asked him.

He told me that it was imperative that the statements were in pristine order as he used them to make important lending decisions. I understood this point but still found it strange.

Moving on in my career I was promoted into a line manager role. As a young manager I found it very difficult to delegate effectively. I had some very good reasons though. These included:

- It was quicker to do it myself
- The task was done better if I did it
- I didn’t trust anyone
- I was afraid they would actually do it better than me
- I liked doing the job
- Sometimes I had no-one to delegate to

Then I remembered my erstwhile bank manager and how he had spent time filing bank statements rather than delegating the task to a more appropriate minion such as me. I was sure that I could have filed the statements away just as well as he did but, for some reason unknown to me at that time, he thought it best that he did it; as he probably had done for many years.

Then two further thoughts hit me. The first thought was that by performing this task he was being efficient. Yes, he did the job right. I remember the fuss if a statement was ever out of order. But, crucially, he was not being effective. While he was doing the job right, he was not doing the right job.

A bank manager was paid a lot of money then. Surely however well he filed the statements he should not have been doing them. This then brought my second and potentially very disturbing realisation.

As a manager whenever I had completed a task that should really have been delegated (in spite of my excuses) I was demoting myself for the time it took me to do the job. Think about it. For half an hour every day, the bank manager in question was acting as a temporary filing clerk. I was doing the same thing.

And, so are you. Every time you fail to delegate a task, assuming that you have someone you can delegate to, you are demoting yourself; however well you do the job.

This act can have potentially career threatening consequences. So, think about this the next time you are about to undertake something that could and should be delegated. Are you about to be efficient yet ineffective at the same time?

Author's Bio: 

Ian Henderson is a highly experienced trainer, consultant and speaker. In a 20 year career he has worked with thousands of people from a wide range of organisations in the UK, the USA, Europe and Africa. He is the director of training of Eagle Training Ltd, one of the UK's leading management, leadership and personal development training companies. For more information go to