The Abdication Trap: The danger of over-delegating

by on May 18, 2011 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Cafe

Have you ever encountered a manager who just can’t seem to delegate? If you worked for the person, it was probably disempowering. If the person worked for you, it was probably frustrating.

Delegating is a good and necessary thing, no question. But – and this is a big but – delegation is risky and you need to manage that risk. It’s sometimes easy to forget that when you delegate a task to another person, your boss still holds you accountable for getting that task done right. If the task is botched, your boss will invariably assume you’ve abdicated your responsibility.

Abdication is the management term used to describe what happens when you delegate a task to a person and then wash your hands of responsibility for results. This becomes a huge problem when you turn the job over to someone who:

  • Is innately incompetent, or
  • Is competent but hasn’t been properly trained to perform the task.

My guess is that most cases of abdication don’t occur because we put our trust in incompetent people. It’s usually because we underestimate the amount of employee training required to achieve mastery of skills. We train people half-heartedly. We don’t revisit key training concepts. We don’t inspect what we expect. Then we’re surprised when we don’t get the results we want.

So delegation, like everything in management, is trickier than it seems.

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