Delegation Vs. Abdication

There’s a common theme in offices around the world. When the manager wants to assign a job to someone, often a job that they don’t want to do themselves, they “delegate” it to someone else in their team. This is usually followed by a wry smile that says “I don’t want to do this job. So I’m giving it to you. We both know I don’t want to do it. That’s why I’m delegating. You now have no choice in the matter because I’m the boss and delegation is a privilege that bosses have. Don’t bring this matter up again until it’s done.”

Yes, all of that in one smile.

The thing is though, this is not delegation. It’s abdication. This is a completely different thing and is less desirable.

In the business world, abdication is unfortunately far more common that delegation and most people get it wrong. If you, as a manager and leader, assign a task to someone and then move on and forget about it, you’re not delegating, you’re abdicating. To be more blunt, you’re shirking your responsibilities as a leader.

Real leaders know that they remain ultimately responsible for any task that they reassign, no matter who is in direct control of it. They maintain ownership of the task. Consider the following points to delegate effectively:

  • Select the right person for the job based on their individual skill set, not just someone who you feel has the time to do it
  • Ensure that they have or will receive the proper training to be able to complete the task well
  • Provide clear instructions for the task and your expectations
  • Ensure that the assigned person has access to any resources they may need
  • Act as a mentor and facilitator

To summarise, delegation is not about offloading crappy jobs to others so you can do the things you prefer. It’s about making informed decisions and moving the right chess pieces into the right positions at the right time. Then, don’t run away and disappear like an absentee leader. Be a mentor, take on a supporting role if necessary to facilitate your colleague’s success.

Maintain ownership and continue to show genuine interest in the outcome. After all, if you’ve delegated to the right person, with the right skill set, supported them along the way and created the right environment in which they can operate efficiently, the outcome is far more likely to be a success.

Team building is built on a foundation of trust. Delegating a task effectively demonstrates that you trust that particular person to complete the job to the same standard as you would expect of yourself. This is why it’s crucial to maintain ownership of the task and outcome. If you abdicate and run, it shows you don’t really care.