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Do You Know the Difference Between Delegating and Abdicating?

forest [1]Earlier we told the story of Bob, Mark and Jim [2] and how Bob went from working solo to managing to directing.

But just like in real life, this story hasn’t ended.

Directing others involves delegation. It’s just that abdication and delegation can look pretty similar at the beginning.

How can you tell them apart? Let the saga continue.

Mark Gets a Promotion, Bob Gets a Vacation

Bob started his business because he is good at what he does. As his reputation in the marketplace grew, so did his business. He reached the point where he could no longer do it alone. So he hired Mark and then Jim and then others. The roster may have expanded but the nature of the business stayed the same. Bob never got away from being busy all the time as the business grew.

Something had to give.

One day Bob made a big mistake: He forget to place an order for a critical inventory item. It just slipped through the cracks in all the commotion of a typical hectic week. He had multiple unhappy customers due to the lack of stock.

But Mark came in with a solution: Buy the items from a local competitor to deliver to their long time customers. It wasn’t a profitable solution but it at least kept the customers happy.

This got Bob thinking, “Mark is a ‘get it done’ kind of guy. He really understands what matters here. A happy customer was more important than the profit on one transaction. Mark is the kind of guy I can trust to make the right decisions.”

So on Friday afternoon, Bob tells Mark he has a crazy idea. If he doesn’t get a break soon, he is going to wig out. So he is taking a week off starting Monday. He’s heading up to the forest where there’s no Internet, no cell phones. Just pine trees, peace and quiet. He’s leaving Mark in charge. Mark already knows everything about the business. It will be just fine.

Mark is a little dubious about this. Sure, he is confident that he knows the business, it’s just that there are things that only Bob has ever done. Bob won’t hear it though. He thinks Mark is just being modest. So with a flourish, he hands the keys over to Mark and heads out the door with a big smile on his face.

Let’s Stop Our Story For a Moment

Delegation involves several steps. The first step is to determine the right person to delegate to. (I was very tempted to invent the word “delegee” there.) “Right” does not necessarily mean “presently qualified” and this will tie into why delegation is a multi-step process. Qualification can be created if need be, but qualification (new or existing) isn’t enough. The fact that the target of your delegation is presently qualified can get you into trouble. It can lull you into short cutting the necessary steps of delegation and turn you into an abdicator.

So after selecting and training, you need to provide two things: Assignments and authority.

It does no good to make someone responsible for paying vendors if they can’t sign the check. You can’t instruct someone to keep the store appropriately staffed if they aren’t allowed to alter the schedule. Sometimes we forget the authority we ourselves possess. It pays to think this through. It’s not a bad idea to ask them what authority they think they will need to carry out their assignments.

If you find yourself bristling at their reply, consider whether it is because they are overreaching or if you are just uncomfortable giving away the authority they will require to get the job done.

Delegation can be emotionally challenging for you. After all, they could fail. What is even scarier is – they could do it different than you. We are often more attached to our methods than the outcomes. Get clear if you are going to delegate. Outcomes are the only thing you truly manage going forward.

Once you have set them on their way, you must allow them the freedom to perform. Micromanaging (really, managing at all) will stifle their work and defeat the whole point of delegating. You intention needs to be to free yourself of these particular responsibilities. Plug into the possibility that your qualified people are now a part of your brain trust. Their ideas and innovations are an extension of you. Let them bring something to the table.

The Final Step is Feedback and Mentoring

Just because you have delegated doesn’t mean you have washed your hands clean of the whole thing. Monitor results and outcomes. Do the results meet your expectations? If they do, offer praise. Positive feedback encourages people to keep up the good work.

If results are not up to par, understand it is your responsibility to help them make adjustments:

Delegating involves these steps, in this order:

If you’ve stopped anywhere along this path – you didn’t delegate, you abdicated. The earlier you stopped, the worse the abdication was and the higher the potential damage.

So whatever happened with Mark?

Tanned, Rested and Back On The Job

Bob strolls back into work with a new spring in his step. He’s asking himself why he waited so long to take some time off. After all, Mark could have covered for him long ago.

Mark is already in the office. He looks up haggardly and says:

“Oh man, am I ever glad to see you.”

Bob inquires:

“Why, what’s up?”

Mark then launches into a litany of unexpected happenings. This broke and that person was late and the supplier shipped the wrong size and their latest customer wants a price break and…Mark wasn’t prepared for any of this.

Bob barely got past step one of a six step process before he disconnected. So here’s Mark, all stressed out that he “failed” – when it was Bob who failed him. He had abdicated rather than delegated.

So Bob has some work to do. It’s not just that he needs to clean up from last week. He needs to really prepare Mark so that next time, he can take it all on. Mark is up for it. Bob can do it right.

After all, Bob is going to need another vacation soon enough.

Man in Forest [3] Photo via Shutterstock