Abuse of Delegation | Misuse of Delegating

Principles of Management
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Chloe Xu
Director, Australia

Abuse of Delegation | Misuse of Delegating

Delegation is a core part of leadership and management, according to what we have learnt from numerous management works. It is often described positively as an effectiveness method or management technique that helps both superiors (managers) and subordinates (employees), with managers being able to focus on important areas while employees having an opportunity to build their abilities and skills.

However, recent research looks at the circumstances under which managers choose to delegate and reveals that when entrusting tasks to others, managersí real intentions are often not that positive. The study discovered that managers interviewed tended to delegate decisions when the consequences would affect other people, in particular when all the options were not appealing.

The researchers believe this pattern was driven by 2 factors:
1. A desire to avoid criticism or blame and
2. A desire not to feel responsible if something bad happened to other people.
In other words, the willingness (or reluctance) to delegate had little to do with how important, difficult, and/or complex the decision is.

Moreover, the researchers found that people didnít delegate to just anyone. Their choice of delegatee is based on someoneís level of authority rather than his or her expertise, which means someone who would clearly be responsible for whatever happened.

Understanding these dynamics can obviously be helpful for delegatees (to avoid being assigned an unfair assignment), and for emerging managers when their decisions will affect others, and for companies looking to help their managers delegate appropriately.

Source: Steffel, M., Williams, E. and Perrmann-Graham, J. (2016). Passing the Buck: Delegating Choices to Others to Avoid Responsibility and Blame. Organizational Behaviour and Human Decision Processes, Volume 135, July 2016, pp.32-44. Available at Science Direct.

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