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Delegation: The art of running a productive painting crew

It’s amazing how many veteran painters tell the same story: “I led painting crews for a while, but the extra pay wasn’t worth the hassle. Now I work for a little less, but the job is so much easier.”

While it’s true that running a crew of painters isn’t for everyone, it doesn’t necessarily have to be more trouble than it’s worth. Someone’s got to lead, and the make-or-break skill is delegation. Master the ability to hand out work to others and you might just decide you like running crews after all.

Treat All Painters With Respect

During the winter of 1989, I worked under the best leader I’ve ever seen. He had a thick Scottish accent and he was the kind of guy who you’d happily go to battle with if it came to that. His secret was simple: Offer everyone respect and decency all the time. He was a firm, skilled tradesman, and he wasn’t afraid to take on dirty work himself if it came up. We loved him. Treating everyone with respect like this is a learned skill, so don’t expect it to come naturally. Master this ability and good painters will happily give you their best.

Leading is Different Than Doing

Running a crew is like wielding a big, organic power tool. Your painters do most of the work, but only as you lead. Moving away from production and into leadership is often especially hard for veteran painters because painting is about hands-on craftsmanship. Leadership, on the other hand, is mostly about juggling the big picture. Learning to let go from the one main job of painting to the much more varied job of handing out work to others is often the biggest challenge new crew leaders face. Know the challenge is there and it won’t bother you nearly so much.

Praise When You Can, Correct When You Have To

It’s easy to mistakenly think that everyone in your crew needs to paint the way you do. They don’t. As long as the outcome is good, the approach is good. Be humble enough to recognize that you don’t know it all and delegation becomes a whole lot easier.

Weed the Garden

It’s getting harder to find tradespeople with good work ethics, real skills and the decency to deliver a full day’s work for a full day’s pay. The paint trade is no exception and that’s why you need to tune your crew and prune out dead wood. Not everyone is capable of keeping up, and a poor painter can foul up a team that otherwise might work well. This is one job you can’t delegate.

Running a crew takes different skills than painting does, so don’t expect the experience to be the same. Master the skill of delegation and you might just find yourself telling people that running a painting crew isn’t that bad after all.

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