Did I Delegate or Did I Abdicate?

Delegate: To entrust a task or responsibility to another person. Abdicate: To fail to do what is required by a duty or responsibility.

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,” I have abdicated, not delegated. You assign a task but then forget about it. As a leader, I am not a micromanager, I have to be intentional that delegation doesn’t drift into abdication.

This “delegation” process might sound familiar:

  1. You casually and quickly mention to someone “I need you to do this ‘thing’ for me.”
  2. And you get busy…
  3. Maybe you remember once to ask “how is that going” only to be met with either panic or remorse or a promise “I will get to that this week.”
  4. You forget to follow up, and another ball is dropped, another great idea is withering away.

You say to yourself “but I delegated it– why didn’t it get done? Why can’t Joe get things done?” If your intention is to delegate, the following actions must be taken:

  1. Clarity: Give crystal clear instructions, including expected actions, responsibility, outcomes, and expected completion date. Abdication often happens when leaders are unclear on what desired outcomes.
  2. Action plan/status report: Check in to see if my expectations were understood. Abdication can occur when leaders don’t effectively communicate expectations.
  3. Targets: Identify a key metric. Agree how both progress and outcome will be monitored and measured.
  1. Dashboard: Setup a visual dashboard to track progress and update priorities Agree when and how progress will be reported.
  1. Check ins: So you can provide additional clarity/ information/ knowledge/ resources are needed to keep moving. Agree when and how progress will be evaluated and adjustments made.
  1. Deadlines: Give the entire project a deadline– then back up major “milestones” [outcomes, phases] with expected completion time to arrive at key dates

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 salesperson 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. A lack of visibility and engagement creates abdication; leaders don’t check on their progress because they donm’t want to nag or, frankly, be bothered.

The CEO who hires a president and then goes off to work on acquisitions is abdicating. 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.

Back to Basics

Effective leaders must first get clarity about what they want. Then they need to communicate a desired outcome that is vivid and clear from the beginning, answering any questions team members—employees, contractors, or volunteers—might have.

Oversight is key part of leadership as well, especially for those of us who don’t like to dictate every little detail. Leaders don’t need to look over their shoulders every minute. Leaders do need to make sure, from time to time, that their people are making good progress on the larger tasks they set out for them.

Delegation Done Right

We are deluding ourselves if we think abdication will bring us the freedom and prosperity we’re after. We can’t delegate by simply handing off authority and responsibility and instructing our teams to “figure it out.” Doing it right is a process that includes:

  1. A Vision Statement: Our vision statements provide constant guidance by enabling our team members to answer the question: “Is the action I am about to take moving us toward or away from the company vision?”
  2. Goals
  3. A Culture Statement: Our culture statement sets out clearly company values. It defines what we stand for and it sets out our expectations for behavioral standards.
  4. An Organization Chart with Responsibilities and Processes
  5. A Commitment to Constant Hiring
  6. Training
  7. Team Alignment: Team alignment is a formal process of communicating with the team and refining their understanding.
  8. Key Performance Indicators (KPIS): The number one de-motivator for employees is unclear expectations.

We have to follow the process and invest in our and their futures. We are going to have to work more before we can work less.

Other Perspectives – DIY Leadership

Most everything you read these days on what makes an effective leader stresses the importance of delegation and provides both advice and structure on how managers and leaders can improve their delegation skills. The message promulgated is that if a leader doesn’t delegate what they do, they are not functioning effectively.


Depends on the level in the organization. Delegation of a strategic role can approach abdication which does nothing to serve the purpose of effective leadership or enterprise value creation.

Here are five jobs for the DIY leader:

  1. Communication of the strategic game plan
  2. Presence in execution
  3. Architecting the ‘customer moment’
  4. Auditing value compliance
  5. Interview potential front-line manager candidates

All insights and ideas are taken from the following articles.