If you are at any company long enough to get in to a leadership/managment position, you will eventually hear the following saying:
That saying, in whatever form you hear it, contains at least half of everything you will ever need to know if you want to be a good leader and manager.
Now, first, like all good pedanticists, we need to define our terms:
- the right or power to enforce rules or give orders
- somebody or something with official power
- power to act on behalf of somebody else or official permission to do something
- somebody who is accepted as a source of reliable information on a subject, or a book in which such information is given
- an official body that is set up by a government to administer an area of activity (often used in the plural)
- a statement that makes somebody believe something is true
- the ability to gain the respect of other people and to influence or control what they do
- knowledge, skill, or experience worthy of respect
- a law or legal decision that is cited as establishing a precedent or a principle
- a form of rule that is seen as legitimate
Looking at this, the first part is obvious: You delegate authority. In other words, when you assign a task to someone, you have to give them the authority to get the job done. That can be everything from the ability to set priorities, to control over a budget. Authority isn't just about being in charge. That's position. To be in charge, you have to have the mandate, the clout to do what needs to be done. To assign a task to someone, but then not let them be able to take any action to complete it without your express approval is the height of stupidity, and a waste. If you're going to require approval for every action, no matter how small, then you should just go ahead and do it yourself.
Now, for the key word in the second half: ...not responsibility:
- the state, fact, or position of being accountable to somebody or for something
- the blame for something that has happened
- somebody or something for which a person or organization is responsible >authority to make decisions independently
You can't delegate responsibility. This part here is where everyone stumbles. When we say "you can't delegate responsibility" that doesn't mean that you allow the person to whom you're delegating authority to run away from any and all responsibility for that task. They have the responsibility, or duty even, to do the task correctly, within the (of course) reasonable parameters you assign. If they do not, then they should expect to be taken out to the woodshed.
However...if you're in charge at a higher level than the person who just screwed up a task you gave them, the overall responsibility to handle that failure is yours and yours alone. If they didn't have the skills to complete the task, you should have made sure they had, and took advantage of training opportunities. If they didn't know how to manage time or other resources correctly, you should have been working with them to fix that long ago. You're in charge, the buck stops with you.
That can be a scary concept. In the end, it's your fault. Unfortunately, that scares some leaders/managers so bad that they invert authority and responsibility, and insist on being the only authority in their domain. Ever worked for someone who would assign projects, give you no way to actually do the work without asking them for help every ten minutes, then upbraid you when the project failed, as it was doomed to from the start? You folks who are nodding know what I am talking about.
However tempting the desire to micromanage everything so your keister stays at it's normal temperature may be, you must resist it. First, because you cannot do everything on your own. Secondly, because it will hurt your career. If you set yourself up to be absolutely indispensable to a department or group, do you think you're ever getting promoted out of that? Not just no, but heck no. You'll be keeping your indispensable butt in that chair until you retire or quit. I bet that empire's not so cool anymore, is it?
As well, people spot that kind of behavior far faster than you think they do, and it becomes really obvious as to the reason no one in your department can get anything done. "Dilbert" even has a character for this: "Bottleneck Bob". The more you do this, the less your people will take any initiative, or try anything new. What's the point? You won't let them have the authority to actually do work without your presence looming over their shoulder.
It's also easy, by the way, to spot the departments and groups that get this saying right. They get things done. They have people who go out of their way to do things. They may not have the most formal reporting structure, but they never have any problems with it either. They know who's in charge, and they have a good symbiotic relationship. They know their boss is there to get them the resources they need and keep problems from interfering with the jobs they are doing, and they know that their job is to get things done well so that their boss doesn't have to catch a lot of flack, and they can keep said good boss for a long time. They know that when their boss gets promoted, (because he's running a tight department), there's an excellent chance that they'll benefit too. In other words, they're a team, and they have high esprit de corps, which may be anachronistic terms, but they are still the best ones out there to describe what I am talking about.
Yes, it's hard and it's scary to have your performance evals rest on the work of others. But if you can't handle that, then get out of management until you can.
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