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Delegation versus abdication

When you started your business, you probably did every task needed to produce and deliver your product or service, or near to it. And as your business has grown, do you still carry much of the day to day—if not the actual execution, the oversight of the work? Do you find yourself unable to let go of work you shouldn’t be doing for fear that everything will fall apart, or that employees constantly come to you looking for a signoff on work that they’re responsible for?

This is what it looks like to run a business that’s completely dependent on you. And you can escape that way of working, but it takes learning how to effectively delegate.

The keyword there is “effectively.” There’s a critical distinction between delegating and abdicating—and it's a distinction many business owners struggle with.

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How is delegating different from abdicating?

Delegation is giving someone else the responsibility to complete a task to your standards. And to make it possible to complete the task, you give them the power to act, entrusting them to make decisions or allocate resources to get the results you expect. To successfully delegate, you have to stay accountable, making sure whoever performs the task has what they need to achieve the right results—and ultimately follows through.

Abdication, on the other hand, is when you pass off a task and simply walk away, allowing an employee or team to own the overall accountability for the outcome. This is risky because as the owner of your business, you’re accountable for everything in it. If you hand off a task or a function to an employee and completely remove yourself from the picture, you’re simply abdicating your role and failing to fulfill that duty or responsibility. 

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Is delegation good for business?

Yes, because accountability can be a slippery thing, and proper delegation defines who's responsible for what result. 

When asked why they have trouble delegating, many owners say something like: 

It takes too long.

It’s faster to just do it myself.

I have to be sure it’s done right.

I don’t really know how to delegate.

Something here may resonate with you. 

If you keep doing all the little daily tasks you've always done, you'll always be trapped doing them and never free for strategic work. Letting go of tasks that you shouldn’t be doing is scary, especially if you've always done it and have your particular way of doing it. 

Some business tasks or functions beg to be handed off to someone better suited or qualified. Take financial management for example. Too many business owners want someone else to take on that role, leaving them free to focus on the "fun" side of running the business. 

There’s nothing wrong with delegating the task of financial management to someone who has the time and knowledge to get the job done in your place. But it’s a common mistake of entrepreneurs who are still in the early maturity stage of their business to completely pass off the finances to an "expert". 

Maybe you’ve had the experience of hiring your first employee to do the work you don’t have the knowledge or desire to do and feeling free, knowing you have one less task or part of the business to worry about. But often, that sense of freedom leads to what we call management by abdication—passing off the task in question completely and thinking of it as someone else’s problem to solve.

How can abdication hurt your business?

Abdication can lead to disastrous results: tasks not completed properly (or at all), deadlines missed, unhappy customers and financial problems popping up. But since you abdicated those responsibilities, you won’t even discover these problems until they’ve grown big enough to get back on your radar.

No matter who has the responsibility for a task or function in your business, you're ultimately accountable for the final outcome. That doesn’t mean you have to micromanage employees or just do everything yourself. You simply need to delegate instead of abdicate.

How to delegate effectively

If you ever want anything to be any different in your business, you have to start practicing proper delegation. You don’t have to become a master delegator overnight. The process can happen gradually with the following steps:

  1. Identify a task you want to delegate
  2. Document the correct way to perform this task, step by step, including the quality control standards for each step. We call this type of system document an Action Plan.
  3. Clearly specify results you expect from the delegated task. Give information on what, why, when, who, where and how.
  4. Have someone follow your Action Plan and communicate openly while they work through it if needed. Don't micromanage, but make sure they keep you in the loop on progress and performance.
  5. Use what you learned in step four to revise your Action Plan until you’re both comfortable with it.
  6. When the new system document is ready, give it to the employee responsible for that task, train them on how to successfully run your newly created system and insert a copy of this process document into your company's Operations Manual.
  7. Choose another task you’d like to delegate and repeat these steps.

Delegation is a critical part of building a balanced and inclusive business. It will help you discover the natural place for yourself, your managers and your staff. If you’d like help with delegation, systemization or organizing your time, schedule a free session with an EMyth Coach—we’d love to connect with you.


EMyth Team

Written by EMyth Team

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