I took my first managerial role over 35 years ago. I cringe when I look back and realise just what a lousy manager I was back then. One of the areas I failed miserably in was delegation. Frankly, I just didn’t understand what it was. Interestingly though, I was brilliant at abdication!

So, I thought it might be useful to explain what I think is the difference between these two activities and why developing the skill of delegation can help you become a more effective manager. However, let’s first look at what each of them is and how they are different.

Delegation v abdication

Image courtesy www.cmd.wichita.edu

Now, there are many definitions of delegation. One that I like is by Martin Holland, who defines it as “the art of allocating duties and responsibilities to a team member – and of measuring and managing the results.” 

He then goes on to define abdication as “allocating duties and responsibilities to a team member – but without the measuring and managing part.”

Big difference!

In this way, abdication is the abandonment of our duties and our responsibilities as a manager. It is basically just passing tasks on to others; often with out any other reason than we don’t want to do them ourselves.

The other end of the spectrum is where a manager keeps everything to themselves; neither delegating nor abdicating. They do the lot!

In my defence your honour, as that young manager, I had many reasons for not delegating things to me team. They included:

  1. I didn’t have the time to delegate because I was too busy
  2. My team didn’t have the necessary skills to do what I needed them to do
  3. They didn’t know what I wanted them to do
  4. I couldn’t trust the team to make the right decisions or do things right
  5. People couldn’t do things as well or as quickly as I could

There were many more reasons, but I’m sure you get the gist.

What I didn’t realise at the time was that I was almost in a death spiral. My team didn’t know how to do things because I didn’t have the time to train them; because I was too busy doing the things that they should have been doing.

Didn’t I tell you I must have been a lousy manager????

Fast forward many years. In today’s challenging business environment the ability to delegate effectively is a much valued skill. When we cover delegation we begin by pointing out the difference between delegation and abdication as I did above. We then point out that true delegation has to have an element of developmental opportunity for the person we delegate a task to.

Then we get our delegates to think about some key questions about a particular task that they would like to delegate.

  1. The first question is if the person to whom you delegate does a good job, what will the result of the delegated task be? In other words, what are your criteria for knowing they had done a good job. This is important because if you can’t tell them exactly what you want, how can they do a good job?
  2. The second question is what are all the things that the chosen delegate need to knowdo well and think like? This question seeks to identify the knowledge, skills and motivational requirements necessary in order to do a good job. Once you know these, you can identify all the possible people you could delegate the task to and rate them against these three characteristics. We recommend a scale of 1 being low in each section to 6 being high.
  3. Now you have done this analysis, who is the best person to do the task and why do you think that? We ask our participants to think about this because when they subsequently ask their chosen candidate there is a strong chance that they will say “Why me”. By doing this analysis you can answer their challenge.
  4. What, if anything, might you have to take off them in order that they have the time to do what you want them to do?
  5. What’s in it for them to take on this task? In many ways delegation is a sales process and, as any salesperson will tell you, benefits usually sell. So, you can now offer them a developmental opportunity.
  6. How will you measure the performance of your chosen candidate once they take the task on? What will you agree as KPIs or milestones? When will you review their progress?

So, there you are. Six questions that can help make your delegation more effective and get you some really useful benefits, including:

  • More skilled team members (if you have trained them correctly)
  • More motivated team members
  • Increased trust because they feel that you trust them to do a good job
  • More time for you (eventually), because initially it will take you time to work this process than if you had done the job yourself

Finally on the subject, don’t forget that you are in the role that you are because at some point in time someone gave you the opportunity to prove yourself by delegating a task to you!