Delegation Versus Abdication

I’ve long preached the three Ds of paperwork: as soon as something comes in; do it, delegate it, or ditch it. Otherwise, your creativity wilts under the shadow of a towering in-box.

The second D trips up a lot of new managers.

Inexperienced managers believe that delegating a task removes it from their plate, but inadequate oversight will get you and your coworkers into a lot of trouble. Ask effective managers why they are so attentive to benchmarks and objectives, and you will hear about the time they weren’t.

Effective managers, regardless of their politics, embrace Ronald Reagan’s philosophy of “Trust, but verify.” The management version goes like this: “Inspect what you expect.” That’s because you can delegate tasks, but you cannot delegate responsibility. If you hand off an assignment and then turn your back on the coworker until the due date, you’re taking unnecessary risks with the project and your career.

We delegate tasks not only to accomplish more than we might achieve on our own, but also to develop our coworkers’ skills and experience. You might throw someone in the pool to teach him to swim, but you don’t walk away and let him drown, right?  That would turn out badly for both of you. And you don’t teach him to swim by swimming for him, either.

To keep projects on track without micromanaging, I ask frequent questions about the goals of the project and let the coworker educate me about the choice of strategy and tactics to reach those goals. Coworkers don’t mind a strict follow-up regimen when it’s clear that the manager respects their creativity and wants them to succeed. Without such a regimen, the manager abdicates his title.

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