Delegating vs. Directing

01. 20. 2014    |    posted by: Ralph Beck

One of the most difficult jobs for managers is to pass on the responsibility of a task they have been doing themselves. There may be an emotional bond with the task, or a sense of identity clouding the process and its outcomes.

Often times, familiarity and facility create the barrier of “I can do it faster and better myself so why should the hand off occur?” Frustration builds when the new person does not do it the same as it was once done. The first reason to delegate the task is to get the most out of the managers and their time. The task becomes a trade-off not only one time, but every time.  Ultimately, the manager will never have to do it again, saving an hour a day this time as well as every time it has to be done. Let’s assume there is an opportunity cost to doing the task, but there is greater value for it to be delegated. Here, the answer is obvious—pass it on. If there is no better use of the manager’s time, then why are they a manager? Why do they need people to help?

There is a big difference between delegating and directing, but sometimes their meanings get clouded. Delegating implies that there is either a process that can be managed or one that can be designed. Directing means that each step is taken only by command. Think of the difference between a play staged with full direction of every step and movement and a play staged with a statement of requirements such as, “enter the room and make the audience believe you, believe your life has changed.” With the former, there is little room for the actor, and a danger of a robotic almost blind performance. With the latter, where only the requirements are stated, the role and outcome become the actor’s. They own it.

To delegate rather than direct, a manager truly has to limit the requirements to those that are true to all, to the process itself rather than specific to their own personality and habits.


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