Abuse of Delegation | Misuse of Delegating

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Principles of Management - Fayol > Best Practices > Abuse of Delegation | Misuse of Delegating

Abuse of Delegation | Misuse of Delegating
Chloe Xu, Australia, Premium Member
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, managers’ 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 didn’t delegate to just anyone. Their choice of delegatee is based on someone’s 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.

Wrong Use of Delegation Caused by Lack of Equanimity
srinivas, Lecturer, India, Member
Avoiding responsibility and blame while delegating may be a result of not attaining a state of equanimity (Editor: ~ a state of psychological stability and composure) while making decisions. A state of equanimity is an essential characteristic to attain in order to be in authoritative position and yet remain happy.

Proper and Wrong Reasons for Delegation
Steven Cooke
A) I'm not sure that those who need to correct these practices engage in these forums 😃.
B) Note that this discussion is not about (good) delegation itself, but about the reasons people have for delegation, why some people hand off tasks.
C) Even properly delegated tasks should be reviewed by the delegate. The best book/advise for doing that at any level of the organization was about getting/keeping "the Monkey" off your back. I forgot the actual title, but another discussion of the principle is here. This is neither a recent nor a resolved issue in business….

Delegation is Powerful for Managers But Must Be Just
Ioannis Stathakopoulos, Manager, Greece, Member
Delegation is a very powerful tool for any manager. You delegate tasks because you trust the other person that he/she will deliver. You control and you coach and you expect a decent and courageous effort.
But you always make sure that the delegee gets all the credit for his/her work and you take the blame for any poor results. If you are not ready for doing this, then sooner or later people will start dreading every time you ask them to do something. And you will lose their trust in you and thus their best intentions.

Nefarious Use of Delegation
David Harland, Consultant, United Kingdom, Member
Delegation is a powerful tool, I've used it myself to with positive effect. However, it can be used nefariously (Editor: ~in a shameful, evil way). In the last few months, I've witnessed an individual be dismissed. The lowest person in the hierarchy delegated activities way outside their scope of competence because the delegators were clueless and needed a sacrificial lamb.
Where there's one, there are usually others. This was not the first case of abusive practices at this particular firm.
Recent independent article on staff appraisals: “Employees that do best in performance management systems tend to be the employees that are the most narcissistic and self-promoting,” said Brian Kropp, the HR practice leader for CEB. “Those aren’t necessarily the employees you need to be the best organization going forward.”
It seems to be being recognized that HR practices are inadequate to ensure psychologically suspect individuals are not getting promoted into a position where they can do significant harm.

Role of Popular Leadership Models in Delegation
Collins, Director, New Zealand, Member
Current models of leadership tend to ensure that narcissists are promoted over others. Ideas such as 'heroic leadership' and the 'transformational leader' are based on character traits such as extroversion, charisma and fearlessness. More thoughtful styles of leadership are simply not appreciated in many organizations.

Evil Delegation should be Punished
Gregory Johnson, Coach, United States, Premium Member
@Collins: Systems of accountability are more evident based and not based on the subjective properties mentioned in your response.
In building effective teams, delegation is required when executing, in a positive way, toward some clearly defined outcome. With this, there are or should be measurable outcomes and timelines.
Anyone intentionally employing strategies and tactics consistent with the study at hand by Steffel, Williams, and Perrmann-Graham should be terminated IMMEDIATELY. This is behavior-based and should be crushed at it's core, no matter what level one sits in the organization.

Delegation and 'Passing the Buck'
Andrew Blaine, Business Consultant, South Africa, Member
What is described in the introduction is not really delegation, but more "passing the buck" (moving responsibility downwards to protect oneself from impending failure).
I think it was Napoleon who commented that "there are no bad soldiers, only bad officers" a sentiment which applies to this situation.
Leadership requires understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of those being led before considering delegation of authority. Further, delegation needs to be closely monitored as, in most cases, failure continues to reflect on the delegator even if the implementer fails.

Factors to Avoid Wrong Use of Delegation
srinivas, Lecturer, India, Member
In my view, in order to have a good delegation by empowerment, following factors can be kept in mind by the manager (delegator) to achieve the proper mental state and cohesive bonding I described @above.
  • Agile mind set of the delegee; a willing disposition to adapt.
  • Seeing through the power structure which opposes the implementation by the delegee.
  • Hints with regards to possible solutions which satisfy the boundary conditions.
  • Leading through the clutter.
  • Consider the past history; a backward point of view of delegee and people involved with solution.
  • Make sure the delegee doesn't miss on the spirit behind the implementation
  • Have a view on the treasury requirements.
  • Elimination of pain points which hinder implementation by the delegee.
  • Delegator acts as a mentor.
  • Make the delegee come up with a solution which is favorable to all concerned and is unique to his talents.
  • Make the delegee have the same capability and competence in all respects as the manager.

Why Women are Held Back
Norman Dragt, Netherlands, Member
@Collins: This kind of popular leadership ideas / styles are also a reason why women have less chance of rising through the ranks. As most women are thoughtful, risk averse, cooperative and self doubting, they are seen as indecisive, weak and unprofessional. Which is strange if you consider the fact that most HR employees are women.

Why Abuse of Delegation is Wrong
judith aldaba, Philippines, Member
Delegation is an important aspect of management because it enables one to share certain responsibilities with other people and at the same time "empower" those members of the organization.
However, caution must be exercised when delegating:
  1. One must make sure that the person who you delegate to is responsible and knowledgeable of the task or responsibility assigned to him/her. He/she must be capable and competent. Otherwise the person who delegated this responsibility will still be accountable to whatever results such action will have.
  2. Also the tasks to be delegated must be clearly identified and both of you should know what results are expected from such action.
  3. One must not delegate simply because one wants to avoid doing this task him/herself.
The abuse of delegation described by Steffel, Williams, and Perrmann-Graham does not meet any of these 3 main criteria.

Delegator Must Assess the Level of Maturity of the Delegee
Costanzo Beretti
In my opinion, the most important issue on this topic is to identify correctly the level of maturity of the human resource (delegee) that you would like to delegate to.
Sometimes, managers delegate to people characterized by a medium or even low level of professional maturity. In this case, people don't have enough experience yet to manage the process and they perceive/live the responsibility as a problem instead as an opportunity for personal growth.

Abusing Delegation
sriram srivatsava, India, Member
Delegation of tasks is a primary role of any manager. Taks should be delegated to someone entrusted because of his/her prior accomplishment of tasks. This trust based on the individual's capabilities of dealing with tasks assigned, application and approach.
Obviously it shouldn't be an abusive practice but rather providing an opportunity to someone to gain experience and grow.

Abuse of Delegation Is Proof of an Incompetent Manager
Suman Kumar, Director, India, Member
The problem is that we have a large number of incompetent managers.
On one hand, they know that they are incompetent and hence they do not want others to develop. That is why they do not delegate when they should.
On the other hand, when they are faced with a problem, where a difficult decision is eminent, they delegate that.
Such a manager forgets that even when they delegate a job, the accountability is still theirs.
Actually we have to either train these managers or throw them out.

Allowing Abuse of Delegation by Managers is Proof of Incompetent Senior Management
Jaap de Jonge, Editor, Netherlands
@Steven Cooke: Let's hope people who delegate poorly will visit and learn from this topic… If you know people who might benefit from reading this, consider pointing them here using the sharing buttons💡.
@Greg Johnson: I agree employing such tactics by managers repeatedly and/or intentionally is even worse than just not knowing how to do it properly.
@Suman Kumar: Yes, unfortunately there are lots of incompetent managers around. And wrong use or abuse of delegation is proof of an incompetent manager. Such managers should be trained, coached or else dismissed.
My view is that persistently allowing such practices of abuse of delegation by lower managers is proof of incompetent senior management and of a rotten company culture.

How to Know and Avoid Abusive Delegation is Used Upon You?
James Antwi, HR Consultant, Swaziland, Member
Surely such abusive practices are very negative tactics which then defeat the whole purpose of delegation.
How can those who are being 'entrusted' with such problematic responsibilities know about this wrong intentions? Should they provide feedback or refuse to act? Is it OK for a delegee to refuse to act on what one feels is a deliberate and negative intention by the delegator?

Monkey Business Book
Charlie Sattgast, United States, Member
@Steven Cooke: It's: "Monkey Business" by William Oncken Jr.
Note that there are a multitude of books by this title. Oncken is the correct author for this concept. He's also the creator of the Oncken Freedom Scale, which is a very useful management tool.

Excellent Reference
Steven Cooke
@Charlie Sattgast: THANKS! I read it years ago as I moved into upper-middle management. It's in a box somewhere... Relevant in this discussion is that the best work gets done when everyone is properly engaged. Taking on too much, or avoiding what you should do personally are both bad practices.

Abuse-Misuse of Delegation
Maurice Hogarth, Consultant, United Kingdom, Premium Member
Delegation is the foundation of management. Management only exists because of the need to delegate. Too much work for one person, so it is divided, so the need for supervision… hierarchy.
Genuine delegation is the assigning of responsibility with the appropriate level of authority to achieve the task (be it operational or developmental).
The abuse or misuse of delegation, therefore, strikes at the very heart of the foundation principles of managing, to be: Fair, Firm, Friendly. People in management positions who are incompetent; lazy, fearful; egoistical; self-protective etc, (Unfair, Passive-Aggressive; Unfriendly) will use ‘delegation’ to dump boring and disliked activities as well as those where failure can lead to criticism or to make life difficult for those they do not like or want.
So, as long as we have weak selection and appraisal approaches without adequate training (there could be a powerful role for HR!) bad managers delegating badly will result in poor people-work outcomes.

Managers Abusing Delegation
Jaap de Jonge, Editor, Netherlands
@Maurice Hogarth: I agree that abuse of delegation as mentioned by Chloe Xu strikes at the very heart of the foundation principles of management and senior managers should not hesitate to say goodbye to individuals employing such miserable tactics if they want to maintain a healthy organizational culture.

Accountability in Management
Steven Cooke
@Jaap de Jonge: Failure to hold people to their responsibilities - at any level - is a sign of a sick organization.
Sometimes the depth of incompetent management is too large. When I was working as a consultant, a company's senior management tried to put me on the spot while discussing a serious failure. My simple suggestion to ask why the supervising person didn't hold their reports accountable left me in peace as they went back to circular arguments. That was because they knew that once they STARTED, it would lead to uncomfortable questions about their own management practices.

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