Delegate, Don’t Abdicate

Written by Joe Driscoll

November 24, 2009

Isolation, delegation, or abdication. Business owners that begin managing in isolation need to master delegation in order to grow. If they wait too long, they can become victims of their own abdication.

Abdication occurs when mounting pressures cause us to look for a savior that can solve our problems. There are no saviors. The only solutions are found in the development of good management systems. Effective delegation is an important element of a successful system.

The risk of isolation is that we limit our potential. The risk of abdication is that we lose control. The dangers of the later, far exceed the former.

Delegation is essentially the task of farming out one’s work to others and then making sure that the tasks assigned have been successfully performed. Effective delegation relies on the fact that everyone can do something useful. Failure to delegate is an abuse of the law of comparative advantage.

Ultimate accountability cannot be transferred. Delegation includes the assignment of meaningful responsibility and commensurate authority. It is dependent on the clarity and definition of the assignment. There must be established performance objectives, open lines of communication, and reasonable controls.

Up to a certain size, one person can manage a business satisfactorily. However, one person management tends to remain long after the business has outgrown that person’s capacity to manage it alone.

No bell rings to alert the manager that it’s time to delegate and build an organization. Instead of effectively delegating authority and responsibility to competent managers, initial attempts at delegation usually involve adding personnel that merely do the manager’s bidding. This pseudo delegation often creates far more problems than it solves.

The effective delegator neither waits to long nor goes too far.
With the pressure building, the manager seemingly makes a commitment to delegate. That commitment more frequently resembles abdication than delegation.

The search is for a savior with experience, someone experienced in areas they’re not. For many businesses that’s someone experienced in the ‘business” side of business – finance, accounting, and administration.

The saviors solve problems, so more are directed their way. Out of sight / out of mind. An unconscious gulf begins to grow between you and your business. Once it begins to grow, the gulf is rarely bridged until the next crisis occurs.

It may occur when a customer calls with a complaint that they thought you already knew about. It may be a call from your banker concerned about your financial statement. It may be a long time employee leaving for another job because “things have changed”.

You think the problem is delegation, but it’s really the deterioration brought about by abdication. You never did give delegation a try.

The solution is the system, not the savior. If it’s your business, you need to develop a management system that reflects your beliefs, communicates the central purposes of your enterprise, and provides the guidelines for the conduct of business. Recruit like minded individuals with the necessary skills to operate under your supervision within that system.

Abdication occurs all to frequently in our busy complex world. We rely on the schools to educate our children, the doctors to maintain our health, and attorneys to solve our problems.

Employees, doctors, teachers, and attorneys are all great, but they really can’t do their best job if you abdicate. Your business is your responsibility. To maximize your potential you need to delegate, not abdicate.

Be involved with all the issues for which you bear ultimately accountability. Just because it “seems to be going great”, is no reason not to be involved. Those to whom you delegate, assume that you understand what’s going on. If you don’t understand, you won’t be able to question. If you don’t question, it will be assumed you accept. That’s OK when things are going well, but nothing goes well forever.

The initial sigh of relief that follows the transfer of responsibility will become a sign of danger if you aren’t sufficiently involved to diligently exercise ultimate accountability.

Because its your business, learn to delegate, but never abdicate. There are no saviors. The solutions are found in well thought out management systems. Those systems include effective delegation.

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