Prioritizing & delegating in high-stress situations

Years ago, when I was heading Trivandrum City Police, a horse in our mounted police unit got seriously ill and was in severe pain.

Since it was cruel to let the horse suffer, the veterinary doctor had to sadly seek my approval to euthanize the horse.

But as per rules, only the head of the state police (the DGP) was competent to permit that.

Since the process would take months, I gave permission to euthanize the horse, subject to ratification by the DGP.

Two months later, when the file reached the DGP’s office, his senior staff officer called me, really annoyed. He said, ‘The horse is already dead. What is the meaning of seeking permission now? What choice do we have?’

When I explained the urgency, he said, ‘As a special case, why did you not send a personal messenger to get the file cleared quickly?’

But the problem was that this was not the only urgent task I had. Running a huge police unit, I had a zillion other contingencies to attend to. How many could I escalate?

We often make this mistake in companies. When we expect a special effort from someone, we may forget that they may already have many such ‘special situations’ on their plate.

Whenever we give someone a special responsibility, let us see if we can also take away something.

Else, someday, even the best of us will get overwhelmed.

– Rajan

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