Delegation Not Abdication

A common mistake for early managers is to delegate work ineffectively. They try to do what they think their direct reports would want—assign a task and be completely hands-off. It’s the right instinct but seldom yields the right results. Problems occur when mistaking abdication for delegation.

Delegation is ensuring the person has what they need to accomplish the task and setting expectations about what needs to be done. If the person doesn’t have the ability or resources to do the work then it won’t get done and you’ve failed to delegate. If the person doesn’t know what needs to be done or you don’t check to make sure it is done well, you’ve failed to delegate.

As a manager, you are responsible for results. If your reports fail, you’ve failed. You need to successfully enable people to do work, check it, and make sure what comes out is of high quality.

Delegation is an active process. Abdication is a passive process.

See also:

  • Directly Responsible Individual

    A DRI is a commonly used organizational pattern where one person is directly responsible for the overall outcome of an initiative. This avoids many pitfalls like a tragedy of the commons where responsibility is shared amongst everyone and therefore everyone loses all accountability.

  • Knowledge Decay for Managers

    All working knowledge has a decay curve of usefulness. If you rely on having up-to-date, deep technical knowledge as a manager, you will eventually lose the thing that makes you effective. From personal experience, this happens after 6 to 12 months from when your primary activity becomes managing people.