WHEN SUBORDINATES ARE DOING THE BOSS’S WORK

Delegate!  Delegate! Delegate!

It is almost impossible to take a management course or read a management book that does not drive home the importance of delegation, if a manager is to do her or his job properly and succeed.  And when the discussion turns to managers who have delegation difficulties, these discussions tend to focus on the scourge of “micromanagement”.  When, for whatever reason, a manager just cannot let go or trust subordinates to do their job sufficiently well, the micromanager steps in and either does it her or himself, or insists that the job be done as he or she dictates.

The subsequent organizational results from chronic micromanagement include lowered unit morale, subordinate underdevelopment, unit underperformance, subordinate turnover, management tasks that go ignored from lack of attention, and over time, usually a burned out manager as well.  This is never a pretty picture and the habit of micromanaging will eventually impede a manager’s prospects for success.

But what if the manager’s delegation difficulties run in the opposite direction?  That is, what if a manager ends up delegating far to much of his or her own work, or as often occurs, simply ignores basic responsibilities forcing subordinates to  pick up the slack?  This is an equally dysfunctional working arrangement, with many of the same negative organizational impacts mentioned above.

The art of effective delegation is often a matter of sound judgment.  While some things are obviously management responsibilities, and others are not, the difference can seem blurry at times.  So here are a few general hints that may help a manager make some important delegation decisions.

First, non-managers are responsible for doing the actual daily work of the organization, while managers are responsible for doing what is necessary to make that happen in the most efficient and productive ways.  Requiring subordinates to undertake tasks — via delegation or by default — that pull them away from their core jobs are best weighed carefully against the cost.

Second, if the task is essentially administrative — meetings, planning, data gathering, briefing preparation, resource allocation, personnel administrative matters, negotiating, etc. — these are most often management responsibilities.  Many senior managers have staff officers to handle some of these tasks but most line managers do not.  Delegating these to subordinates is rarely the correct call, since they fall outside their job jar and pull them away from their core jobs.

Third, if the task involves a difficult conversation with another employee, manager, or superior, those come with the management job.  Unpleasant though these conversations are at times, delegating them, or forcing others to intervene by your avoidance, is an abrogation of management responsibility.  Delegation is not appropriate in these situations

Fourth, representational duties — representing and accepting responsibility for, as opposed to selling, your product or service with clients and customers — are generally a manager’s responsibility.  You can choose to have experts and specialists accompany you in these situations to address specific substantive issues, but a manager must assume overall responsibility for the quality and value of the products and services they represent.

Fifth and finally, personal tasks are — except in extraordinary circumstances — personal tasks and are usually inappropriate matters for delegation.  Asking subordinates to run errands or do favors for you is an illegitimate use of management authority, bound to irk most subordinates and slowly undermine your management credibility.

While micromanaging has an inevitable negative impact on subordinates, a boss who allows others — directly by request, or by abrogation — to do his or her work for them, creates considerable irritation, animosity, and disrespect as well.  It is hypocritical to expect subordinates to work hard in support of organizational objectives, when a boss is too lazy or hesitant to do her or his own job.  Moreover, it breeds considerable cynicism among a workforce when a boss is allowed to function in that way by his or her superiors.

Being seen as LEGITIMATE as a manager is essential to the exercise of the full range of a manager’s authority and responsibility.  As a manager, allowing or encouraging others to do significant portions of your job, is a guaranteed way to squander that legitimacy and fast.

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