Did I Delegate Or Did I Abdicate?

Most of us who have been in leadership roles for awhile understand the importance of delegating. It’s simply a matter of leverage; the more we delegate, the more gets done.

And… sometimes we get confused. We think we are delegating, when in fact, we are abdicating. What’s the difference?

Delegate: entrust (a task or responsibility) to another person

Abdicate: to fail to do what is required by (a duty or responsibility)

For me, one question defines the difference:

At what point in the process will I know if my expectations were met?

If the answer is, at the end, or maybe not until there is a serious problem or a disaster, we have abdicated not delegated.

Hmm… guess that means if my intention is to delegate, I must take the following 5 actions:

  1. Clearly outline my expectations
  2. Check-in to see if my expectations were understood
  3. Agree how both progress and outcome will be monitored and measured
  4. Agree when and how progress will be reported
  5. Agree when and how progress will be evaluated and adjustments made

“Okay”, you say, “I get that, when it comes to team members doing tasks, but certainly you don’t expect me to monitor my leadership team? That would be micromanaging!”

For me, there is a big difference between micromanaging and delegating. When we micromanage, we are checking in, hovering over, second guessing, etc., etc. Delegating, on the other hand, requires none of this. Instead when we delegate, we let the system manage accountability.

The CEO who hires a new sales manager, and then checks in daily on the activities each sales person is doing, is micromanaging. On the other hand, the sales manager who ties compensation to performance and publicly posts activity reports and results for each salesperson, is allowing the system to manage accountability. The sales team and the CEO can know at any given time who is performing, without asking or hovering.

The CEO who hires a President and then “goes fishing” or goes off to work on acquisitions without first creating agreements with the President around the 5 steps above, is abdicating. On the other hand, the CEO who sits down with the president and together they decide how they will divide roles and responsibilities and agree on the management reporting the CEO needs to monitor and evaluate, is delegating. Once again the system, in this case a combination of agreements and reporting, is providing the accountability.

So, next time you are wondering if you are micromanaging, instead of abdicating, pause and ask yourself, what systems do I need to put in place so I can delegate instead?

Why Vistage Works

Elisa K. Spain