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Delegation vs. abdication

One of the hallmarks of great leadership is effective delegation. This happens when a business owner or a manager regularly gives responsibility and authority to an employee to complete a task. Doing so develops people who are ultimately more fulfilled and productive. And for the manager or business owner, delegating frees you to attend to the important strategic work of business. There is a critical distinction however, between delegating and abdicating, and it's one that many business owners struggle with.

The dictionary defines delegate as: "To give a task to somebody else with responsibility to act on your behalf. To give somebody else the power to act, make decisions or allocate resources on your behalf." Sounds good, right?

To abdicate, on the other hand, is simply this: "To fail to fulfill a duty or responsibility." Not so good, is it?

Giving it away or entrusting it

Accountability can be a slippery thing. Some tasks or functions in a business 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" stuff of running the business. But if you hand off a task or a function to an employee and completely remove yourself from the picture, you are merely abdicating your role as the business owner.

In Chapter Four of The E-Myth Revisited, Michael Gerber provides an example of a typical business entering its adolescence and abdicating responsibilities to its first employee:

There's a critical moment in every business when the owner hires his very first employee to do the work he doesn't know how to do himself, or doesn't want to do... And in a single stroke, you suddenly understand what it means to be in business in a way you never understood before. ‘I don't have to do that anymore!' At last you're free. The Manager in you wakes up and the Technician temporarily goes to sleep. Your worries are over. Someone else is going to do that now. But at the same time — unaccustomed as you are to being The Manager — your new found freedom takes on an all too common form. It's called Management by Abdication rather than by Delegation. In short, like every small business owner has done before you, you hand the books over to Harry...and run.

Abdication can lead to disastrous results. Tasks aren't completed properly or at all, you have unhappy customers, missed deadlines, financial problems — all of which you discover well after the fact because you abdicated those tasks...and ran!

Remember our dictionary definition of "delegate" is to give someone else a task with the responsibility to act on your behalf. Regardless of who has the responsibility for a task or function in your business, you are ultimately accountable for the outcome. Does this mean you must micro-manage employees to ensure things are done correctly? Or should you just do everything yourself to avoid the danger of abdicating the things you are accountable for?

Certainly not!

When you delegate tasks and responsibilities properly, with structure and forethought, it will free you and your managers from the crushing load of tactical work that keeps you from working on your business.

Some guidelines for effective delegation

If you keep doing all the little daily tasks that you've always done, then you'll forever be trapped doing them and never free up the time to work on your business. If letting go of these tasks is a bit daunting (and sometimes it is, especially if you've always done it and have your particular way of doing it) then take gradual steps.

  • First, identify a task that you want to delegate.
  • Document the correct way to perform this task, step by step, including the quality control standards for each step. (At EMyth we call this type of system document an Action Plan.)
  • Clearly specify the expected results of the delegated task. Give information on what, why, when, who, where and how.
  • Have someone follow your Action Plan. Maintain open lines of communication. Don't micro-manage, but make sure that you are kept in the loop on progress and performance.Then revise your document until you are both comfortable with it.
  • When the new system document is ready, provide it to the employee responsible for that task, train them on how to successfully run this "system" and insert a copy of this process document into your company's Operations Manual. (If you're asking, "What Operations Manual?" then its definitely time to contact us for help!)
  • Repeat these steps on the next task.

Delegation is a critical component in the development of a business that is balanced and inclusive. It will help you discover the natural place for yourself, your managers and your staff.

Tell us about it

Have you triumphed and learned how to effectively delegate? Has it freed you to focus on the important strategic aspects of running a business? We invite you to share your experiences by commenting below.

EMyth Team

Written by EMyth Team

We share free resources and stories from our clients, Coaches and team members about how to build a business that serves your life. Our posts will give you updates on our business insights and free educational content.

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